Some of our favourite books of 2022

Edinburgh Libraries staff tell us which were their favourite books of the past year.

Alannah from Wester Hailes Library recommends not a book of the year, but a trilogy!
The Hell’s Library series by A. J. Hackwith is an incredible journey that deals with budding friendships, coping with loss, and choosing your own family in this crazy, messed up world. The stories are written from the perspective of multiple characters, so you really get a good feel for the world Hackwith has created and the complex relationships that develop throughout the trilogy. I initially picked the first book as it was advertised as an LGBTQ+ novel, and the sincerity with which queer and questioning characters are portrayed is incredibly refreshing. If you’re looking for a series to make you laugh with joy, cry in despair, and bite your nails in suspense – sometimes within the span of a few pages – this is an adventure you will want to embark on.
The Hell’s Library series by A. J. Hackwith –
1st Library of the Unwritten (2020) is available to borrow in print
2nd Archive of the Forgotten (2021) is available to borrow in print
3rd The God of Lost Words (2022) is available to borrow in print

Enya from Newington Library would like to recommend I’m glad my mom died by Jennette McCurdy
The reason I picked this book up is the same reason most people do – I was intrigued by the title and cover. That has got to be one of the most intelligently provocative marketing I’ve ever seen! As someone who grew up watching iCarly on Nickelodeon I was familiar with Jennette McCurdy, but wouldn’t necessarily have been interested in picking up her memoir if it weren’t for that title. Celebrity memoirs can be a bit hit or miss, but luckily this one lived up to the expectations it raised! I could not put it down at all, the audiobook was beautifully narrated by the author and the writing style was clear and concise. She perfectly illuminates her complex relationship with her family, especially her mother and the volatile home environment she had to navigate as a child. Even if the title takes you aback at first, by the end of it, you’ll come away thinking “I would be glad, too”.
I’m glad my mom died is available to borrow as an ebook, audiobook and in print.

Roshni from the Resources Team recommends Cold Enough for Snow by Jessica Au
My favourite read of 2022, Cold Enough for Snow is a beautiful, evocative book that captures the small details of life and holds them up to the light. It follows a mother and adult daughter on a trip to Japan in the Autumn – exploring the daughter’s longing for connection and the subjectivity of their shared experiences. I love how atmospheric and textured the writing is. Au’s well-observed images stick with you – ferns through a thick mist of rain, light shifting through an art gallery, streets lit up softly like lanterns. It’s a thoughtful book filled with memory, art, and dream.
Cold Enough for Snow is available to borrow in print.

Heather from South Queensferry and Kirkliston Libraries says she’s a big fan of Scottish fiction and one of her favourites this year was Hear No Evil by Sarah Smith.
Historical fiction’s not a genre I’d usually go for, but this book is based on the true story of a landmark Scottish legal case, so I was intrigued to read it.
The book begins in Glasgow, 1817, where a woman is witnessed throwing a child into the River Clyde.  Jean is deaf and struggles to communicate with the authorities to tell her side of the story.  Robert Kinniburgh, a teacher from the Deaf and Dumb Institute in Edinburgh is called upon to translate and becomes involved with investigations.  He listens to Jean’s story at a time when the authorities are quick to dismiss those with disabilities.  I was fascinated by the way the author depicts the conversations between Jean and Robert in the early days of BSL.   
Sarah Smith paints such a vivid picture of Glasgow and Edinburgh that I felt like I’d been pulled right into the past!  A really interesting and important read.
Hear no Evil is available to borrow in print.

Susan from the Digital Team highlights The Edinburgh Skating Club by Michelle Sloan
I love a book set in Edinburgh, there is something that elevates the experience of reading for me when I know the streets and buildings that are described. This year I have finished the latest Ambrose Parry novel set in Victorian Edinburgh and devoured all four of the fabulous contemporary-set Skelf’s series by Doug Johnstone.
My last foray into the literary capital however was for Michelle Sloan’s The Edinburgh Skating Club. It is a gentle, enjoyable romp set in the contemporary city and in Enlightenment Edinburgh with something for everyone – romance, history, mystery, women’s rights and a very famous painting!  Sloan has taken real people for the historical sections of the book and created an interesting series of “what-ifs”, where the main character Alison Cockburn is able to break free from the social norms of the day in a very unexpected way.
The Edinburgh Skating Club is available to borrow as an ebook, audiobook and in print.

Clare from the Digital Team recommends A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
My most memorable book of the year began as a stop-gap read in between reservations. I was browsing the Libby catalogue and came across several titles by Bill Bryson, an author I’d not read in years. I decided on A Walk in the Woods, an account of Bryson’s attempt to hike the Appalachian trail, with his old friend, Stephen Katz. It’s rare for a book to make me laugh out loud, rarer still to find myself crying with laughter.
The Appalachian trail is more that a walk in the woods, it is almost 2200 miles of remote mountain wilderness. Together, Bryson and Katz faced scary animals, weather extremes, other hikers, tantrums and endless noodles. The book is a testament to enduring friendship, an inspiration for all armchair travellers and in parts, very funny.
A Walk in the Woods is available to borrow as an ebook, audiobook and print.

Mel from Corstorphine Library sneaks in two books of the year!
She recommends The Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels by India Holton
This was such a fun read. The book is set in an alternate Victorian Britain where there are pirates and assassins who just so happen to belong to a not-so-secret society of ladies who pull off heists and robberies in between attending balls and tea parties. The world that the author created was really interesting and the book had plenty of laugh-out-loud moments and one-liners. There is kidnapping, skulduggery, flying houses and a love story – it kind of has everything to keep you entertained!

Hedgewitch by Skye McKenna
This children’s book was an engrossing tale right from the start when the young protagonist Cassie runs away from her boarding school, is nearly kidnapped by goblins and then finds out that she is part of a family of witches who have been guarding the town of Hedgley and the border with Faerie.
I thought this book was exciting and a real page-turner. Cassie was such a likeable protagonist, and the story has broom-flying, talking cats, creepy forests, and a terrific band of friends. The second book in the series is out early in 2023 and I can’t wait to see what happens next to Cassie and her friends.
The Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels is available as an ebook and in print.
Hedgewitch is available to borrow in print.

Doris from Central Lending says one of her favourite books of 2022 is At the Table by Claire Powell.
The novel focuses on the lives of the Maguire family and how they interact over the course of a year over a series of lunches, drinks and at times, awkward get togethers. Nicole is the daughter of Linda and Gerry and is the heart of the family, while her brother Jamie is the soul. Both react differently to the separation of their parents as they navigate their own lives and question the choices they make and the consequences of these decisions. The razor sharp dialogue is a joy to read and is a highlight of the novel.
At the Table is available to borrow in print.

Nicola from South Queensferry and Kirkliston Libraries book of the year was Lonely Castle in the Mirror by Mizuki Tsujimura.
I love Japanese books and find them to be fantastical and whimsical and this book did not disappoint.
This book is about a group of teenagers who are united by not being able to attend school, and are facing their own unique challenges and struggles. This storyline really resonated with me and had a personal connection, which made it an emotional and thought-provoking read. The teenagers are brought together through the magical portal of the mirror into another realm where they can leave their insecurities and anxieties behind and not be judged.
It has a lot to say about loneliness and anxiety and about the importance of being authentic and of reaching out to others. An unusual and captivating fairy tale, which is moving and unusual.

My favourite children’s book this year was Like a Charm by Elle McNicoll. Elle writes about neurodiverse characters in an empowering and positive way. This is a wonderful story set in a magical hidden world within Edinburgh, and I can’t wait to read the follow up which is coming out in February 2023.
Lonely Castle in the Mirror is available to borrow in print.
Like a Charm is available to borrow in print.

Bageshri from Stockbridge Library puts forward The Marmalade Diaries: The True Story of an Odd Couple by Ben Aitken as her book of the year.
I got attracted to the title of the book in the first place. It’s a charming book about a young man in his 30s and a lady in her 80s living together under the same roof during the strange period of Covid lockdown!
Although it doesn’t look like this inter-generational friendship is going to work at the beginning; but they end up having a heart-warming relation between them. The book is a light read full of warmth and humour. It speaks about the lockdown and the effect it had on people’s lives. You will relate to this story if you have or ever had an elder person in your life!
The Marmalade Diaries is available to borrow in print.

What was your favourite book of the year?

Journeys of Empire: South Asian Heritage Month

What is South Asian Heritage Month?

Shining a light on South Asian histories and identities – South Asian Heritage Month was founded in 2020 and runs from the 18 July to 17 August. This year’s theme is ‘Journeys of Empire.’ Journeys like the odyssey of indenture in the Caribbean and East Asia, the ones taken by Indian Ayahs paid to travel to Scotland in the 19th century, South Asian migration to Britain, and many others.

Here are a few books available at your local library to explore and celebrate South Asian Heritage Month:

Tomb of Sand by Geetanjali Shree, translated by Daisy Rockwell
This beautiful translation from Tilted Axis press was the winner of the 2022 International Booker Prize. Set in Northern India, 80 year-old Ma an unlikely protagonist travels to Pakistan to confront her past. It explores big themes like the trauma around partition, feminism, and grief all with a light touch. It’s a sweeping book which defies the borders of language, gender, and country.
Borrow Tomb of Sand in print

Somebody Loves You by Mona Arshi
This lyrical work of fiction follows Ruby and Rania, two young British Indian sisters. Growing up in a society rife with racism and sexism, one day Ruby just stops speaking altogether. Arshi is an acclaimed poet and writes in a poetic language that is in turns unsettling and tender.
Borrow Somebody Loves You in print or audiobook

Non – fiction:
Empireland by Sathnam Sanghera
A bestseller recently made into a documentary for channel 4. This book aims to tell the lesser-known histories of empire – for example the story of millions of Indian soldiers who fought for Britain in WW2. This book explores how these histories continues to shape today’s England and Scotland.   
Borrow Empireland in print or ebook 

Coolie Woman: the Odyssey of indenture by Gaiutra Bahadur
This is a unique book which charts South Asian women’s journeys of forced indenture under British colonial rule in the late 19th century. The history of indentured women is specifically hard to unearth as there’s little documentation about their lives. (Note, ‘Coolie’ in the title of the book is a racial slur.)
Borrow Coolie Woman in print

I Belong Here: a Journey along the backbone of Britain by Anita Sethi
After experiencing traumatic racist abuse whilst on a train to Newcastle, Sethi resolved to walk the Pennine Way in an act of reclamation and adventure. This book follows her journey to find solace, confidence and belonging.
Borrow I Belong Here in print  

Brown baby by Nikesh Shukla
Written after the death of his mother and addressed to his two young daughters, this is a memoir of race, family and home. What does it mean to bring a brown baby into the world today? How do we live with hope and joy?
Borrow Brown Baby in print

Let Me Tell You This by Nadine Aisha Jassat
This incredible collection tells us stories of family, of belonging, and of being mixed race. Jassat is an Edinburgh based poet and is featured on the Edinburgh Women’s Mural. This collection explores what it is to be a woman of colour in Scotland today. Her writing is mesmeric, powerful, and moving.
Borrow Let Me Tell You This in print or ebook

How to Wash a Heart by Bhanu Kapil
The winner of the T.S. Eliot prize 2020, this is a sharp and poignant poetry collection which explores the themes of immigration, boundaries and borders, and what it means to be a guest.
Borrow How to Wash a Heart in print

Reserve any of these titles for collection at your local library.

Empathy Day

Research shows that only ten percent of empathy is genetic, the rest is learned as we move through the world interacting with others, either in person or through the written word which allows us to literally experience the world as another person. One of the wonders of the library, is all the people you can become. Choose one book and you are an explorer, charting new territories, another and you are a servant in the household of the Bennett sisters. Although you do not feel the peril, the fear, the day-to-day life as if you were living it, researchers at The University of Toronto have discovered that there is some correlation in reading and experience; the parts of your brain related to running wakes up when you read about someone running, just as your grasping reflex turns on when you read of a character reaching for a light.

Empathy Day, founded in 2017, aims to promote empathy through reading. Though the day is mainly aimed at children and young adult readers (with excellent lists where authors recommend books which promote empathy) in Central Library we have widened the remit, with staff looking at adult fiction, non-fiction and children’s books which have increased their empathy, teaching them what it is like to be someone else.

Doris, Library Advisor at Central Lending and Children’s recommends All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Focusing on the themes of loss, bravery, resilience and kindness, this Pulitzer Prize winning novel tells the story of Marie-Laure, a blind girl who lives with her father and great uncle in Nazi occupied France. The other main character is Werner, a German boy who has grown up in an orphanage with his sister Jutta. Werner is a genius with electricals who attracts the attention of the Hitler Youth.

Frederick, “a reedy boy, thin as a blade of grass, skin as pale as cream”, is another character that readers will empathise with. The fact that he feels he has no agency in his life is heartbreaking. His friendship with Werner is tenderly written and there’s the constant fear that something terrible will happen at their military school.

All the Light We Cannot See is full of haunting three-dimensional characters, with many trying to do good in a terrifying world.

All the Light We Cannot See is available to borrow in print, ebook, audiobook or as a talking book.

Ania, Library Advisor at Central Lending and Children’s selects two books: The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and Oscar and the Lady in Pink by Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt
Oscar and the Lady in Pink is told from the perspective of a 10-year-old Oscar through his letters to God. He is only ten years old and dying of leukaemia. He has been living in a hospital for a very long time feeling lonely, isolated, and unhappy. His parents, who bring him gifts and surely love him, are uncomfortable during their infrequent visits and have a very little connection with their dying son. They feel hopeless and distant as they avoid the subject of his imminent death.

Things change when Granny Rose, a hospital volunteer, enters Oscar’s life. She brings honesty, warmth and comfort to his life and is the only person willing to listen to Oscar’s questions about death.

My other choice, The Little Prince, I believe, is teaching us the secret of what is really important in life. One of the most significant sentences of the book: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye” summarises the main message of the story. The importance of looking beneath the surface to find the real truth and meaning.  

The author, rightly, argues that we often see more clearly if we look with empathy (the heart) than if we look with the eye.

The Little Prince is available to borrow as a picture book, print, ebook, audiobook and DVD.

Hope, Library Advisor at Central Lending and Children’s chooses Hard Pushed, a Midwife’s Story by Leah Hazard
The astounding thing about medical memoirs is how practising doctors, nurses and midwifes find the time to write them. Leah Hazard left her career as a journalist to study midwifery after the traumatic birth of her first child, and the less traumatic birth of her second. Throughout the first it was the kindness of midwifes and doctors which made all the difference as she “failed to progress in labour” ending up with an emergency Caesarean.

In Hard Pushed, Hazard tells of the huge and tiny ways she seeks to make a difference to a patient, from cleaning a wound and listening to a woman’s struggles, to identifying full blown sepsis during a routine antenatal appointment.

Leah doesn’t skirt around the terrible pressures on the NHS, the staff shortages, the relentless shifts, the terror when the unit is full and there are only so many midwives on shift, and yet she relates these with empathy, and even good humour.

As someone who’s soon to give birth it’s terrifying reading, but it’s also good to know that midwives like Leah exist, and I am likely to have someone like that looking after me; someone warm, kind, human, who listens and relates.

Hard Pushed is available to borrow in print or talking book on CD

Emily, Library Advisor at Central Lending and Children’s selects The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom
The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom gave me a new outlook on life. It tells the story of the life and death of the main character, who is sent to Heaven, and meets five individuals who significantly impacted the life he had. This book is inspiring as it invites you to open up to the possibility that so many individuals, who you either know or don’t know, have an impact on the life you live. By reading this book, it definitely made me more thoughtful and empathetic to others, because just as so many people can have an impact on your life, you also may impact so many others’ lives; by treating people with kindness and exploring empathy, this impact you have can be positive. 

The Five People You Meet in Heaven is available to borrow in print

What book would you recommend for Empathy Day?

Some of our favourite books of 2021

Edinburgh Libraries staff tell us which books have meant the most to them this past year.

Bageshri from Fountainbridge Library says “the best book I read in 2021 is The happiest man on Earth by Eddie Jaku.
It is an inspirational and heart-breaking story of an Auschwitz survivor. This story teaches us life values and make us appreciate what we have in our lives. Eddie faced so much hardship and horrors in life at Buchenwald, Auschwitz and Nazi death camp. He also lost his family and friends. But he still had so much of positivity and hope in life. Eddie has lived a life that many of us can’t even imagine. Even after all the pain Eddie went through in his life, he considers himself the ‘Happiest man on Earth’ and makes the vow to smile every day!
One of the beautiful quotes from this book is:

“Life can be beautiful if you make it beautiful. It is up to you.”

Such a powerful statement! It makes you think and reminds you to enjoy every bit of life.
It is an inspirational story of an inspirational man, which tells us all to grab happiness with both hands. Published as Eddie turns 100, this is a must-read book which will give you hope in the darkest of days.”
Available to borrow in print or talking book on CD.

Catherine from Muirhouse Library enjoyed reading Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro.
“The loveliest A.I. you’ll ever meet is attached to a family home full of secrets. Strangely haunting!”
Available to borrow as an ebook, or audiobook or in print or talking book on CD.

Ian from Portobello recommends Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John LeCarre
“LeCarre’s work, particularly those novels featuring world-weary taciturn SIS stalwart George Smiley, are internationally renowned as among the greatest espionage fiction novels ever printed.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is the 5th story featuring Smiley but is possibly the best remembered thanks to several memorable adaptions in TV, film and radio, attracting an admirable list of major stars and Oscar winners like, Sir Alec Guinness, Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, Sir Patrick Stewart and Colin Firth to name but a few.

Released in 1974 during the Cold War between the powers of the West and the Eastern Bloc, just over a decade before the Fall of the Berlin Wall, and leaning heavily on the controversial “ripped from the headlines” defection of Kim Philby to the USSR in 1963, a time when LaCarre himself worked for MI5, this book eschews the sexy “Bang! Pow! Guns, Girls and Gadgets” spy worlds inhabited by 60s/70s spy contemporaries James Bond, Matt Helm and Napoleon Solo, instead focusing on the seedy, grimy and almost mundane reality of international spy craft in the 1970s, a world of Eastern European stake-outs, late night dead-drops and loyalties for sale to the highest bidder.

When ex-spymaster Smiley is called out of forced retirement to lead the hunt for a suspected Soviet mole deep within “The Circus”, masterminded by his old nemesis in the KGB, little does he realize the depth of the lies and corruption he faces, the secrets hidden at the very heart of the SIS which could send seismic shocks through the British intelligence establishment and change the lives of those involved forever…

If you’re looking for a quick read that you can pick up and put down on a whim, this isn’t the book for you, but if you want a dense, fascinating page-flipper that pulls you in with tons of intrigue, twists and gritty worldbuilding, this may be just what you need.”
Available to borrow as an ebook or audiobook, or in print or watch the film on DVD.

Enya from Morningside Library recommends Esmé Weijun Wang’s essay collection The Collected Schizophrenias.
It “is all about mental health and the journey of getting diagnosed and living with schizoaffective disorder. It’s beautifully written and conveys an understanding of schizophrenia that I haven’t had before, including the many hurdles in getting diagnosed when you appear to be high-functioning, and the multitude of misunderstandings and disagreements about what it means to be schizophrenic.”
Available to borrow in print.

Susan from the Digital Team recommends The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel
“My favourite ebook of the year, The Mirror and the Light
was also quite a bittersweet read for me. I’ve been hooked on Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall Trilogy since I first read Wolf Hall and it had been a long wait for this last book to be published. It’s not often though that you know the ending of a novel before you begin, but with Thomas Cromwell being a historical character his fate was well known to me. Mantel’s writing is utterly beautiful; full of descriptive detail that brings everything from the mundane to the magnificent to life. Her ability to convey the thoughts and inner workings of others is breath-taking and unsurpassed. It felt devastating when Cromwell died, like you were losing a person you intimately knew and cared for and this is a real testimony to Mantel’s writing abilities.”
Available to borrow as an ebook or audiobook or in print or as talking book on CD.

Fiona from Central Library puts forward Giver of Stars by JoJo Moyes.
“This is a real librarian’s book! It’s based around a group of packhorse librarians in the Appalachian Mountains in the USA – yes, packhorse librarians really were a thing in the 1930s. These (mainly) women took books by horse or mule to houses and schools which were nowhere near a town or library. This novel brings out the importance of books and reading to those who are already socially isolated so it rang a bigger chord with me as I read it during lockdown two. The group of librarians depicted are all really strong characters and it was one of those books that I just couldn’t put down.”
Available to borrow as an ebook or audiobook or in print or as talking book on CD.  

Gema from Stockbridge Library particularly liked Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty.
“It had me in because I found it very well-written without showing-off, and I loved that it was intriguing without a far-fetched explanation at the end. Everything made sense. I enjoyed that while I was avidly turning the pages, I was not only trying to guess who the murderer was; I didn’t even know who the victim had been!  And l loved the sense of humour. The author presents some very serious topics, but she also made me laugh. Good pace, without unnecessary descriptions or side stories… It was a long time since I’d read a book so fast.
And no, I hadn’t seen the series. Saw them later and it’s a pity that they couldn’t transmit all the wit of the book.”
Available to borrow as an ebook or in print.

Clare from the Digital Team loved This was our pact by Ryan Andrews
“This past year I’ve been discovering the downloadable graphic novel collection via Libby. Not the type you might be thinking of that’s all superhuman powers and unlikely physiques. No, the ones I’ve found are beautiful, delightful, soul-searching. I started with Relish by Lucy Knisley, a personal memoir into how someone develops and shares relationships through food, sprinkled with recipes. Then I tried Are you listening? by Tillie Walden, which takes you on a heart-wrenching road-trip into an unsettling, shifting landscape of dark memories. But my favourite so far, is This was our pact by Ryan Andrews. It’s a magical and gorgeously illustrated adventure for kids of all ages about the power of friendship, inspiring courage and imagination.”
Available to borrow as an ebook.

Carol from Stockbridge Library choose two books Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart and The Lost Lights of St Kilda by Elizabeth Gifford.
“I really liked these two books a lot. Both set in Scotland, but from very different perspectives in time and place. There are sharp contrasts between the urban rawness in Shuggie, which centres around the hardships of life and love between an alcoholic mother and her son, whereas The Lost Lights has the themes of love and loss set amidst the remote island of St Kilda. I listened to both books on Libby e-audio and really enjoyed listening to the spoken word. Definitely recommend.”
Borrow Shuggie Bain as an ebook and audiobook.
Borrow The Lost Lights of St Kilda as an ebook, audiobook or in print, large print or talking book on CD.

Bronwen from the Art and Design and Music Libraries chooses 1979 by Val McDermid
“Val McDermid’s 1979 is my favourite new book of 2021 – no contest! I’m sure I’m not alone. 1979 is the start of a new series of crime thrillers with the promise from the author of a new book set in each decade leading up to the present. Cast against the Winter of Discontent, the protagonist of 1979, Allie Burns, has started a new job as a reporter in the male dominated world of local newspapers in Glasgow. As a woman in a man’s world, Allie strikes up an alliance with investigative journalist and colleague Danny Sullivan. Keen to make her mark, Allie secures a scoop, the revelation of which is set to shock Scotland and the burgeoning SNP movement to its core. Together with Danny, Allie exposes corruption and terrorism and as their relationship and friendship develops on a personal note what it means to be gay in a world where homosexuality is still illegal. 1979 is very much a chronicle of the times both politically and socially. McDermid draws on her own working life as a young reporter in Glasgow in the late 1970s and I wonder how much of the racism, sexism and homophobia portrayed in the novel she experienced first-hand. The book is more than a period piece however with both plot and characters standing strong in their own right regardless of time and place. All the same as someone who grew up during the 1970s I loved re-imagining all the details of that time, the politics, the smoke-filled rooms, the music, the clattering typewriters and can’t wait for the next in the series. What will Val McDermid do with the 1980s I wonder?
Available to borrow in print or talking book on CD.

Nicola from Kirkliston and South Queensferry Libraries says her stand out read of 2021 has to be The Young Team by Graeme Armstrong.
“This amazing debut novel is written from first-hand experience by an author who grew up being part of the gang culture of North Lanarkshire, and all that that entailed in terms of camaraderie, football, violence and drugs & alcohol. It is looked at warts and all. From the very start I was fully invested in the life of Azzy Williams, the loveable rogue. There is an ethical code of sorts and Young Team is everything above all other allegiances. You watch and dread what may happen and must keep reading to the inevitable climax and showdown.

There are themes which are explored around masculinity and mental health. It is written with truth, and humour. This book should be recommended to young people to read. Graeme has so much to say and gives hope to those who have been written off, particularly young men.

I saw him participate in a discussion with Douglas Stuart, the author of Shuggie Bain (which was another brilliant book and worthy Booker winner). Graeme broke free of the restrictions put upon him and is an inspiration. I’m looking forward to his next book Raveheart, which will look more at the rave culture which was touched upon in The Young Team.”
Borrow The Young Team in print or on talking book on CD.

Robert from Muirhouse Library wants to recommend a book for our younger readers. It proved popular with his Bookbug group and on nursery visits. It is Hat Tricks by Satoshi Kitamura.
“Magical! You never knew what was going to come next! A real page turner!”
Available to borrow in print.

What was your favourite book of the year?

Short stories for Christmas (for grown-ups)

Christmas can bring out something sentimental in authors and readers alike, something locked away for the rest of the year, like Bukowski’s Bluebird. This means that Christmas stories are a genre of their own, sentimental but sad and happy, stories which hold a mirror up to their characters at a magical, vulnerable, quivering time of the year, when the air between worlds seems thinner than ever.

Here, Hope from Central Library, highlights four excellent Christmas stories.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Marley was dead; to begin with.

But this doesn’t stop Marley coming back, the first of four ghosts to visit his old business partner, Ebenezer Scrooge. A classic known by children and adults alike, living on thanks to adaptions such as A Muppet’s Christmas Carol. I remember playing Tiny Tim’s mother in an assembly when I was seven years old (I think my costume was a pinny over my school uniform.)

This story of cruelty and redemption, of second chances, of warmth, love and conviviality, was written in Victorian England, but still speaks to us today. I think of it smelling of port and mincemeat, with the clutter of cutlery in the background, and the glow of a warm coal fire, flickering by the hearth. It’s a book to make you feel warm, even when winter is at its coldest, and maybe, that is why we still need it.

Christmas is a Sad Season for the Poor by John Cheever

“Do you have any children Charlie?” Mrs Fuller asked.

“Four living,” he said, “two in the grave.” The majesty of his lie overwhelmed him.

This strange, sad, lovely story by John Cheever, published in The New Yorker in December 1949, is one of my favourites. A lonesome elevator operator in a high-rise building in New York, encounters everyone who lives in the building and has many drinks and Christmas dinners, throughout the day. Cynical and sentimental, this story looks at giving and the way that while Charlie sees Christmas as a sad season for the poor, perhaps this is not always the case?

The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry

Della finished her cry and attended to her cheeks with the powder rag. She stood by the window and looked out dully at a grey cat walking a grey fence in a grey backyard. To-morrow would be Christmas Day, and she had only $1.87 with which to buy Jim a present.

I hate this story by O. Henry, but couldn’t not include it. The first time I read it I wept at the stupid injustice at the heart of the tale, where an artist and his lovely wife both sell their most prized possessions to buy one another a Christmas gift. It’s desperately sad, but it is about love, and beautifully written. And I remember it, even if it is with sadness and anger at this cruel, if sentimental Christmas tale.

Auggie Wren’s Christmas Story by Paul Auster

“The very phrase “Christmas story” had unpleasant associations for me, evoking dreadful outpourings of hypocritical mush and treacle.

A writer is tasked with the impossible: to write a non-sentimental Christmas story. He doesn’t know what to write, until chatting to his friend, cigar shop owner, Auggie Wren. It’s not a conventional Christmas story, but I would argue that it has a lot of sentiment, not in a sickly Hallmark kind of way, but in a way which is real, tender and true.
Listen to Paul Auster reading his story online.

It was also made into Smoke, which I think is a fantastic Christmas film.

Music and literature

There is a wealth of novels which have music, musical instruments, musicians or composers at their core, fictionalised accounts of real people and real accounts of fictionalised characters.  Annie Proulx’s Accordion Crimes, a wonderful account of the century long journey and the owners of an accordion from Sicily to America, or Vikram Seth’s An Equal Music, the long story of a break up and a reconciliation, of sorts. Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity or Roddy Doyle’s The Commitments, the list is long covering all kinds of music and all kinds of fiction. We asked a few of our colleagues to pick their favourites and review them for you here.  

Book cover of The Noise of Time

Douglas from the Music Library takes a look/listen to this audiobook available at Overdrive, The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes.

A fictionalised biography of Dmitri Shostakovich which through three “meetings with power” lays out for us the very great compromises made by artistic communities in Russia during the reign of Stalin and Khrushchev. The novel opens with Dmitri Dmitriyevich Shostakovich awaiting his fate, sitting with his packed suitcase in the hallway outside his apartment.  Waiting for the lift doors to open and two men in suits to come for him and take him to the Big House. Where he could expect a bullet to the head for his artistic crimes, listed in a Pravda article, probably written by Stalin, denouncing his Opera “Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk”. The first of two killer assassinations, by the state, of this work.  

The dates, the names, the compositions, the main events are all as they should be, in this imagined version of a very real life. How Dmitri Dmitriyevich reacts and comments through his internal and external monologues and conversations are for the greatest part down to Julian Barnes. It is this commentary which, one main thread of the novel, makes us question the veracity of any of Shostakovich’s written dialogue with the world. The Shostakovich of the novel comments on this saying his written output will be worthless to future scholars of his thoughts and deeds. Through the novel Dmitri Dmitriyevich alludes to how the state put words in his mouth or wrote words which were attributed to him.   

At his death, of heart failure on August 9 1975, Shostakovich was probably one of the most successful soviet composers of the 20th century. But is his legacy and his survival, that of a man who did what he did to stay alive, and keep his family alive, or is it that the things he did and said, he truly believed, because he was a party man, leading a charmed life. Whichever of those statements you believe, few of us will ever be made to examine ourselves and the strength of our believes and how strongly we would hold on to those believes in the face of imprisonment or death.  

I recommend you don’t listen to this as an audiobook when you are out for your daily constitutional, it could end in tears. 
Borrow The Noise of Time as an audiobook

Doris from Central Library introduces Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid  

This evocative novel captures the hedonistic lifestyle of a fictional Los Angeles-based seventies band, The Six. Though the band is made up, Taylor Jenkins Reid has made no secret of her love of Stevie Nicks and The Six is reportedly inspired by Fleetwood Mac.  

Daisy Jones and The Six experience highs and lows over a period of years, revealed through interviews with a journalist and written as transcripts. Readers witness the accelerated rise to fame of Daisy Jones and the Six, the struggles of producing a hit album and being on tour and the eventual breakdown of the band.   

Complicated relationships are at the heart of the novel. Not only is there the romantic entanglement between Daisy Jones and Billy Dunne, the married front man of the group, but the tension between Billy and his brother Graham is well written, as are the interactions between the other members of the band. Big personalities and tortured souls feature heavily in this book, adding a vibrancy and sadness to the novel.  

I read Daisy Jones and the Six during the first lockdown in April 2020. Given that we were unable to escape to sunnier and warmer climes, this made the book even more poignant. While plane rides to California were off limits, it certainly made me listen to Fleetwood Mac’s album Rumours with a renewed perspective. 
Borrow Daisy Jones and the Six as an ebook or an audiobook 

Bronwen from the Art & Design and Music team tells us about Polly Samson’s A Theatre for Dreamers  

If ever there was a book to transport us to a world of sea, sun and bohemia Polly Samson’s novel A Theatre for Dreamers would top the bill! Set on the Greek island of Hydra in 1960, through the eyes of our narrator Erica we are dropped into the artistic set living on the island that includes the authors Charmian Cliff and George Johnstone and the Norwegian couple author Axel Jensen and wife Marianne Ihlen. Into their lives comes the young Canadian, charismatic musician and poet Leonard Cohen who meets his muse Marianne and turns the lives of this bohemian set around as we see musician and muse increasingly drawn to each other.  

Erica is fulfilling her late mother’s dream for her to experience an adventure and though Erica is largely outside the main events, we see her eyes opened and innocence lost as wars are waged between the bohemian men and the women on the island over their respective allotted writing time contrasting with the locals who struggle to make a living and feed their families and for whom art is not an option. This book is blissful escapism and captures a period of time in the life of Leonard Cohen.   

Leonard Cohen lived on Hydra 1960 to 1967 and continued to make short visits throughout his life right up to his death in 2016.   
Borrow A Theatre for Dreamers as an ebook or an audiobook, and sample interpretations of Cohen’s music on Naxos Jazz. Go to playlists and select Listen and Read and select the Leonard Cohen playlist. 

Our colleague Fumiko, is normally based in Morningside Library but during the post lockdown period she joined us in Central Library, below she tells us about the author Murakami and his book Norwegian Wood

I was thirty-seven then, strapped in my seat as the huge 747 plunged through dense cloud cover on approach to the Hamburg airport. Cold November rains drenched the earth and lent everything the gloomy air of a Flemish landscape: the ground crew in rain gear, a flag atop a squat airport building, a BMW billboard. So—Germany again.  

Once the plane was on the ground, soft music began to flow from the ceiling speakers: a sweet orchestral cover version of the Beatles’ ‘Norwegian Wood’. The melody never failed to send a shudder through me, but this time it hit me harder than ever.’ 
— Haruki Murakami’s ‘Norwegian Wood’ starts with these lines.   

Murakami uses various genre of music in his books from pop, rock, jazz to classic music, which attracts many readers. Since I like to listen to any type of music, it was a pleasure when I read Norwegian Wood first time and I devoted my time reading his books one after another.   

In Norwegian Wood, he uses Beatles ‘Norwegian Wood‘ of course and their many other songs and other pop, folk and rock musicians.   

For jazz, Henry Mancini ‘Dear Heart’, Bill Evans ‘Waltz for Debbie’, Miles Davis ‘Kind of blue’, Thelonius Monk ‘Honeysuckle Rose’ and many jazz players are mentioned.   

For classic music, the book mentions Debussy ‘Claire de Lune’, Brahms ‘Fourth Symphony’ and ‘Second Piano Concert’, Ravel ‘Pavane for Dead Princess’ and Bach ‘Inventions’ and many mentions about classic music composers.   

Cleverly using this blend of the music, he describes the mood and the lives of young people in the sixties in Japan effectively and gives the people in the books character.  

You can borrow Norwegian Wood as an audiobook and many of his other via Overdrive/Libby app. And moreover, you can enjoy the music in his books with library’s online services, Naxos Music and Naxos Jazz without any advertisement!   

A library user from Edinburgh, David, introduces Trumpet by Jackie Kay. 

Trumpet is the stunning debut novel by the writer/poet Jackie Kay. First published in 1998 it is, as you would expect, beautifully written and tells, mostly through a series of flashbacks, the story of the life of a great Scottish jazz trumpeter Joss Moody. 

The novel starts after Moody’s death when it is revealed that Joss had been born Josephine but had chosen to live her life as a man, a fact that was kept a secret from all but his wife. Through the recollections and reactions of his family and friends we follow his story from 1927. The book deals sensitively with the many issues that this situation creates. His loving wife Millie the only person who knew the truth tells much of the tale and her version contrasts with the reaction of his adopted son Colman whose reaction to the news is at times less than sympathetic. 

The novel is in part influenced by the true story of the American jazz musician Billy Tipton who found fame as a pianist and band leader and who had been born Dorothy Lucille Tipton. It is a moving story, sensitively and brilliantly told but it also works on other levels as well as dealing with issues of sexual and racial identity. 

Borrow Trumpet by Jackie Kay as an ebook or an audiobook.
In his review, David mentions the jazz musician Billy Tipton, Suits me: the double life of Billy Tipton by Diane Wood Middlebrook is available to borrow from the Music Library when we reopen. 

Zoe works in the Libraries’ Central Lending department and is busily collaborating with colleagues from other departments to launch our new online Craft Group. Ursula le Guin is one of the most read science fiction/fantasy novelists, and below Zoe shares with us her regard for her work. 

Ursula le Guin, perhaps best known for her Earthsea series, wrote many more science fiction and fantasy books for both children and adults over her long lifetime. She was a peerless world-builder, philosopher and scholar of human nature. One of her books, ‘Always Coming Home’, available on the shelves at Central Library, is about the lives of an imagined tribe of people, 500 years into the future. Le Guin collaborated with analogue composer Todd Barton to invent the music of this world, and a soundtrack to the immersive experience of reading this unconventional book. The resulting album, created with its own music notation, is ‘Music and Poetry of the Kesh’. 

Library reader Daniel from Leith reviews Utopia Avenue 
David Mitchell’s Utopia Avenue took me right into the sixties London music scene and then further afield to America. Along the way I met famous musicians of the time and had a few words with them. I went to a great party at the Chelsea Hotel and felt very rock and roll. In fact, my only real disappointment was not to have met Jim Morrison of The Doors. 
The book concentrates on the experiences of three members of Utopia Avenue, and deals with many of the all too human personal stories that are the backdrop to finding fame and fortune. These form the basis of many of the band’s eclectic songs and music, and hence the story the book tells. 
I’ve been left trying to decide, if Utopia Avenue actually was a real band from the 60s, who would they have been? I reckon they were somewhere between Jefferson Airplane and Fairport Convention, with a touch of The Yardbirds. The whole book felt very tangible and I wanted to be there among it all. 
Utopia Avenue is available to borrow in hard copy 

Mairi too joined us at Central Library in the first post lockdown period from her home library, Oxgangs. If you are not already aware of the works of Mitch Albom, Mairi introduces us to part of what to expect in The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto.

What do you choose to read during a global pandemic? Words I never thought I would utter! 

I decided on a fairy tale for adults, and Mitch Albom is the master of them. I had avoided this book as I thought it was about a puppet! I couldn’t have been more wrong, the strings in question were on a classical guitar. 

I was transported around the world with the most eclectic musical accompaniment.  

Starting with Mozarts Eine Kleine Nachtmusic. It was August 1930 in Villarreal and in an erratic 6/5 tempo we met Francisco Tarrega, travelling on to Hector Villa-Lobos living in the Brazilian Rainforest writing his twelve etudes. The a Taverna playing flamenco. 

The protaginist travels to England by boat to escape Franco, and abandoned on a dock there he meets Django Reinhardt heading to America to tour with Duke Ellington, as he speaks no English the young man accompanies him to Detroit! He finds love to the tune of Avalon, enjoys solace on Waiheke Island, then travels to New York to teach, and via La Catedral by Agustin Barrios we return to Villarreal where the symphony ends. 

I would add all living musicians – Marcus Belgrave, Roger McGuinn, Lyle Lovett, Ingrid Michaelson, Paul Stanley, Tony Bennett, Winstom Marsalis and John Pizzarelli were all happy and proud to be included in this book! 

We have created some playlists of some of the music mentioned in the books above. 
All you need is your library card to log on to Naxos and then go to ‘Playlists’ to stream or download this literature-inspired list of tracks. 

Music and literature playlist on Naxos Jazz
Music and literature playlist on Naxos Music Library (classical)

Do you like your art fictionalized?

Stories that make art their subject or artists their characters can help to bring art and its history alive to readers and at the same time can teach us things and spark off an interest to learn more about an artistic movement, artist or time period.

Staff from Central Library have been busy reading and have come up with a few suggestions for stories that bring art to life. Many of the books below are available to borrow in ebook and/or audiobook format.

Zoe from Central Lending and Central Children’s introduces us to How to be Both by Ali Smith
How to be Both is a really interesting book exploring love, family, truth, art, and grief. It’s split into two narratives, one told from the point of view of a contemporary English teenage girl called George and the other from the perspective of an Italian Renaissance painter called Francesco. Some editions of the book begin with one narrative, some with the other. It’s definitely a work of two halves, or sides, as it explores the not-so-binary relationships between concepts such as life/death, male/female. As you might expect from a novel loosely about art, it is also preoccupied with the act of seeing, and being seen: that things and people are more than how they appear, if you take the time to really consider them. 

Although there is some trademark Smith playfulness and lively dialogue, it’s not a light and fun novel to read. It feels like more of a philosophical thought-experiment, using the characters’ lives as a vehicle. Smith really zooms in on what it means to be alive, as she spends a lot of time describing minutely what George, mourning her mother, is thinking and feeling, and what Francesco the artist is seeing and doing. This book asks you to pay attention and think, as Smith demonstrates in her incredibly erudite imagining of Francesco’s life as an artist, in her painstaking exploration of George’s emotional inner life, and in her sharp-eyed deconstruction of the real paintings and frescoes featured in the story. “There’s always more to see” says one of the characters in the book, and this sums it up perfectly.
Borrow How To Be Both as an audiobook.

Jen from the Art & Design and Music Team reviews Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
Piranesi lives in a marble world that is rushed through with saltwater tides and weather. There is only Piranesi in this world, the incongruously dressed Other who he meets twice a week, and hall upon empty hall of statues. He fishes, he mends his nets and clothes, he writes in his notebooks and he lovingly tends to the dead – all 13 of them. 

Until chalked messages appear and the darkness of the tale, the disjuncture and the unease at the metaphysics of the place, broaden out. The character “16”, a sixteenth person, appears to Piranesi and his beautiful marble world, like the tides, bulges.

I read this book in the early hours of black winter nights, in a locked-down world, feeding a baby. It was wonderfully apt to think on, and as a response to the 18th century artist Piranesi – his etchings of city ruins and imaginary prisons – the book feels so surprising, deep and luminous in every way.
Borrow Piranesi as an ebook.

Bronwen from the Art & Design and Music Libraries introduces A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier
Have you ever found yourself in a church admiring the craftsmanship of the kneelers punctuating the rows of pews? Tracy Chevalier’s A Single Thread takes up the story of the broderers of Winchester Cathedral; the exquisite workmanship and skill of the kneelers they embellished with fine embroidery, and the real-life tale of real-life head-broderer Louisa Pesel. But the main story is around the fictional character of Louisa, one of the generation of so-called `surplus women’, left alone after the death of so many young men in the First World War, who struggling for independence finds solace and comfort in the companionship of her fellow broderers of Winchester Cathedral.
Borrow A Single Thread as a ebook or an audiobook.

Doris from Central Lending Library reviews The Improbability of Love by Hannah Rothschild 
The Improbability of Love, a quirky debut novel, is a delight from start to finish and is full of passion, intrigue, great wealth and skulduggery. 

The main character is Annie McDee, a private chef who finds a mysterious painting in a London junk shop. But, this is no ordinary work of art. It is in fact a talking painting with an imperious attitude. Measuring only 18 inches by 24 inches and painted by French artist Jean-Antoine Watteau, the little painting has an extraordinary history. Many want the painting and will stop at nothing to achieve their aim. 

Light in tone, The Improbability of Love also explores the darker side of the art world, examining the relationship between wealth and real value. 

Though a work of fiction, the Improbability of Love is informative and Rothschild mentions a number of artists and their paintings including Cezanne’s card players and Klimt’s Adele Bloch Bauer, thereby, simultaneously entertaining and educating readers. 
Borrow Improbability of Love as an ebook. 

Fiona, Central Library Manager, tells us about The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
The Goldfinch is the first book which sprung to my mind when the idea of art in fiction was mentioned. It’s one of my favourite books and I’ve read it three of four times. It’s not an easy book to sum up but at the heart of the book is a small painting – The Goldfinch by Carel Fabritius, a student of Rembrandt’s, who died at the age of 32 when a gunpowder factory near his studio exploded. The painting is one of the few of Fabritius’s works which survived.

In the novel, the painting is rescued from an explosion at New York’s Metropolitan Museum by 13 year old Theo, whose mother dies in the same explosion. Instead of returning the painting Theo keeps it, and the book follows him as he grows to adulthood, still wracked with guilt and grief.

It’s a long book covering lots of different themes – I’ve seen it compared to Great Expectations by Dickens. I loved it!

Hope from Central Lending and Central Children’s considers how the author Alan Hollinghurst writes beautifully about art/artists and the pursuit of beauty in The Sparsholt Affair.
In his most recent novel, The Sparsholt Affair, the protagonist, Johnny Sparsholt is a portrait painter, his life and work overshadowed by a scandal surrounding his father, David Sparsholt. The book looks at the prejudices and hypocrisy of post-war British society – a society where a man could be a hero, only to have his name and reputation destroyed when he goes to bed with another man. 

Jonny, though famous in his own right, always feels he is followed by this scandal, which destroyed his parents’ marriage, landed his father in gaol and saw the family name dragged through the gutter press. Throughout the book, full of painters and the painted, admirers and the admired, Jonny forges a path falling in and out of love with a beautiful but unobtainable man, and ultimately, unexpectedly becoming a father himself. There is a wonderful scene at the opening of one of Jonny’s exhibitions, seen through the eyes of his six-year-old daughter.

Painting and beauty is a constant in this strange, lovely, scathing novel, which leaves much unsaid, but stays with you for a long time afterwards.

Joanna from Art & Design and Music shares her appreciation of Fair Play by Tove Jansson.

Translated from the Swedish by Thomas Teal and awarded Bernard Shaw Prize for Translation in 2009, Fair Play is the last novel written by Tove Jansson, when she was 75.

As an artist and a writer Jansson is best known as the creator of the Moomin stories, which have been published in thirty-five languages. Overhemingly talented she was a painter, illustrator, cartoonist and comic strip artist. From 1930 till 1960 she worked as an illustrator and the cartoonist for the Swedish-language, leftist, satirical magazine Garm, drawing caricatures of Hitler and Stalin.

Towards the end of 1960 she start to write for adults and her prose was usually semi-biographical. This is the case in Fair Play.

Fair Play is mainly a love story, but unusually ends happily. This is a book about life, love and art. I’m not sure if this book is a novel built with seventeen chapters or just seventeen short stories put together. Portraying everyday life of two loving partners in their seventies: Mari the writer and Jonna the graphic artist and a film maker. But this story is not as obvious one, the plot is much more complicated. In some way this story box is a kind of chinese puzzle box. So we should remember, that in real world Mari impersonating Tove herself is much more than a humble writer girl in this story. Jonna is a portrait of Tove’s longlife, friend, lover and companion Tuulikki Pietila. Each chapter shows us Mari and Jonna in different situations and circumstances. In their spacious and distant workshops with the shared attic space with the sofa TV and collections of film cassettes. Feeling a little bit like eavesdropping we can hear their discussions about art, ideas for writing, small everyday quarrels, jokes about taste in films (one of them is all for ambitious Fassbinder kind, the other one prefers B class Westerns). We can also see them in the boat arguing in the mist about their mothers, on their small island in a cabin size house or in the Great City of Phoenix (title of one story). Travelling with the 8mm Konica, nervously looking for the next roll of Kodak film.

And where is the art you may ask? Art is the main subject of this book. The art of living and the art of loving. Everything beautifully sketched with Tove’s delicate writing.
Borrow Fair Play as an ebook.

We hope you might enjoy reading some of these books as much as we have and would love to hear your recommendations.

Books for coping, resilience, and knowing sometimes, it’s OK not to cope

In a world of so much uncertainty, Hope from Central Library gathers suggestions from colleagues for books they turn to that help them cope.

Lately, I have felt like the world I am walking in is built from sand which has hitherto held firm, but now is loose and crumbling beneath my feet. The certainties of the world around me are falling away, the grains of sand catching the light, all rainbow coloured, as they crumble. It’s a scary feeling, and one I think many of us know, as we emerge from a Covid winter. We are unsure of our footing in this new world.  

Many nights I find myself dreaming I’m running through an Edinburgh transformed into an ice rink, the world slipping and sliding and uncertain below my feet. I know my colleagues have experienced similar feelings of loss, disorientation, uncertainty.  

Here we choose beloved books about resilience, about coping, and about sometimes knowing it’s OK not to cope, to slip on the ice of this strange new world, and take our time to get up again.  

Front cover of The Outrun

Hope chooses The Outrun, by Amy Liptrot
The Outrun is a book about going home to find who you really are. In her late twenties, Amy Liptrot was an alcoholic living in London. As her obsessive behaviour spiralled out of control, she found herself endlessly contacting her ex-boyfriend and begging him to come back, give her another chance, though he had told her already he couldn’t cope. A horrible assault was the trigger which sent Liptrot home to Orkney, and the farm she grew up on with a field behind called The Outrun.  

This is a book about nature, about family, about healing however it also manages to not gloss over how damned hard it was for Liptrot to heal. The Outrun takes readers birdwatching late at night, noting rare species, swimming in an ice cold sea, and learning what it means to come home.  

I knew very little about alcoholism before reading this book, but the immediacy of Liptrot’s story made me feel her struggle and long for her to succeed through the reviving darkness of her long Orkney winter.
Available to borrow as an ebook and audiobook.  

Front cover of Cat's Cradle

Zoe chooses Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut 
As in all Vonnegut’s books, there is a lot of wisdom about being alive on this planet and wry humour about people in general and the situations we find ourselves in. I find his take on these things enormously helpful and comforting to read at any time – but this particular book also has a looming apocalypse in it which will feel apposite to many.   

Vonnegut addresses this alongside the rest of the chaos in his story with a Zen-like grace, which is profoundly affecting. He was a master storyteller who took a long, wide view of life while never distancing himself from it – I think he had a rare gift for showing us ourselves with patience and love. A book to read and re-read! 
Available to borrow as an ebook

Front cover of Educated by Tara Westover

Bageshri chooses Educated by Tara Westover  
“Not knowing for certain but refusing to give way to those who claim certainty, was a privilege I had never allowed myself. My life was narrated for me by others. Their voices were forceful, emphatic, absolute. It has never occurred to me that my voice might be as strong as theirs.”   

These are the words used by Tara Westover in her memoir, Educated, to describe her life.  

The author was born in a survivalist Mormon family in a north-western U.S. state Idaho. The book describes her struggle to become educated by overcoming all the uncertainties in her life. The family had its own beliefs and own ways to live life on a harsh mountain. There was no space for modern medical science and the children were not sent to school.  

The whole family’s life was ruled by the author’s father and his strange beliefs. He didn’t trust the government which lead to him not getting birth certificates for his children.  

The author’s determination to escape from violence in her family, her quest for knowledge, and her urge to become independent lead to her achieving things which seemed impossible. It is really fascinating to read about how she managed to achieve a PhD at Cambridge University despite all the uncertainties in her life.
Available to borrow as an audiobook.   

Front cover of Any Human Heart

Doris chooses Any Human Heart by William Boyd   
Any Human Heart is a wonderful novel about loss, resilience and the funny twists and turns of life. It tells the story of Logan Mountstuart, a flawed yet sympathetic character, who is born into privilege and ends up facing a number of hardships – some of his own making – during his lifetime.   

Written as a diary, Any Human Heart is moving and comical. It chimes with me because it makes me consider what it means to be human. Dealing with the universal themes of identity, love and fractured relationships, Any Human Heart is both profound and playful and reminds me that everybody’s life contains pain and sadness.   

I have read Any Human Heart at least four, maybe five times, and I know it’s a novel that I will return to again and again. Every time I pick it up, I always find something new and incisive. Full of beautiful prose, I will never tire of this modern classic. Thoroughly recommended. 
Available to borrow as an ebook 

Ania chooses My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
The first of the Neapoliitan Novels, My Brilliant Friend is a beautiful story about a friendship, narrated by one of the main characters Elena (Lenu) across few decades from early childhood. It is also a never-solved riddle of how an individual can rescue herself.   

It’s full of uncertainty on many levels. Uncertainty of the future, private dramas, stress, violence, poverty, constant tension and yet it’s full of hope, love and a strong friendship that can survive in some very difficult and rough times. 
Available to borrow as an ebook and audiobook 

Front cover of Love in a Fallen City

Yi-Chieh chooses Love in a Fallen City by Ailing Zhang and Stories of the Sahara by Sanmao  

Written in 1943 when Shanghai was occupied by Japan, Love in a Fallen City is a classic in modern Sinophone literature.   

Before writing this novella, author Eileen Chang experienced an uncertain period. In 1939, her plan to study in London was terminated by the war and a few years later she was forced to end her studies in British Hong Kong after the Japanese invasion. On her return to Shanghai she was an unwelcome figure in her family, but it was during this period her writing started to receive attention in occupied Shanghai. She also fell in love with a married man.   

Like the author, the female protagonist in this novella faces great uncertainty. Unwanted by her mother’s family, Bai Liusu is urged to secure economic stability by finding a new husband. She falls in love with a young attractive entrepreneur who just finished his studies in England but neither of them trusts each other’s commitment.   

The novella ends without clear resolution, but Bai is fully aware of the looming uncertainty and we know she will persist.
Available to borrow as an ebook.   

Stories of the Sahara by Sanmao 
Long before the restrictions of the current day, Taiwanese people faced strict lockdown from 1945 until the mid 1980s under the authority of the KMT Chinese Government.  

Thanks to her Mainland background and her family’s close association with the KMT ruling class, Sanmao Chen was one of the few allowed to travel abroad. At a time when travel was impossible for most, she enchanted numerous Taiwanese readers with her exotic depictions of the Sahara Desert, and her attractive Spanish husband, Jose.   

Sanmao’s diaries and letters reveal the perennial uncertainty she was experiencing. Yet her stories are exciting, adventurous, and full of imagination. Her pursuit of freedom inspired many Taiwanese readers in the 70s and 80s and Mainland readers after the Cold War. I was so fascinated by her stories of the Sahara Desert and Jose, that I made my mind to “exile myself overseas”.   

Front cover of A Promised Land
Front cover of Long Walk to Freedom

Paul chooses Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela, and A Promised Land by Barack Obama
For me, both books are by inspiring people, and show them not being daunted by setbacks in ways surprising themselves. Both very honest and reflective, open about their self-doubt and disappointment, facing into uncertainty by keeping faith with their values and beliefs through adversity. 
Long Walk to Freedom is available to borrow as an audiobook.
A Promised Land is available to borrow as an ebook and audiobook.

Making plans and keeping resolutions

Every new year is an opportunity to start fresh, an opportunity to make plans to achieve things, to make resolutions about what you want to do or don’t want to do in the new year! Many of us make new year’s resolutions, but when we reflect back at the end of the year, we find that they didn’t happen. So, let’s make 2021 different. If you are already struggling to keep up with your resolutions, read on to find out what interesting plans our Central library staff have got for this year…

Eleonora from Central Lending says, 
“My first resolution is to try to finish my graphic novel about food recipes.
I have started it during the first lockdown, and I haven’t completed it yet, this will be my big challenge and maybe… I hope… I can publish it sometime in the future.

My second resolution is BUY LESS. 
I realised how much futile things are surrounding my life, sometimes I feel literally suffocated of them. 
Wardrobes, drawers, kitchen cabinets are packed of stuff that I don’t even know of their existence.
So, the plan is living minimalist. Give away what I no longer need, make my house lighter and most importantly make myself free of that thought of “BUY”. Part of this resolution is also trying to make my own cleaning products, so stop buying dangerous detergents/soaps that aren’t good for me and the planet.
For me this year is; “Less is better”.

Third resolution: learning oil pastels. I already started and I am pretty much into it, I just love it and cannot stop doing it. I can spend hours sitting on the chair and drawing.

I am determined to work on two new yoga poses too, I got my fancy yoga blocks for Christmas so I am sure they will help me to achieve my aim.”

Eleonora finds these amazing eresources helpful to keep up with her resolutions:

The year of less: how I stopped shopping, gave away my belongings, and discovered life is worth more than anything you can buy in a store by Cait Flanders
Available to borrow as an ebook

The more of less: finding the life you want under everything you own by Joshua Becker
Available to borrow as an ebook

Hinch yourself happy : all the best cleaning tips to shine your sink and soothe your soul by Mrs Hinch
Available to borrow as an ebook and an audiobook

Spark joy: the Japanese art of decluttering and organising: an illustrated master class by Marie Kondo
Available to borrow as an ebook and an audiobook

and the Yoga Journal magazine via PressReader.

Doris from Central Lending has very healthy plans for 2021:
“One of my new year’s resolutions for 2021 is to make more vegetarian recipes. This is for two reasons: to widen the variety of fruit and vegetables I eat regularly, and to use up the week-old celery and carrots that occasionally languish at the bottom of my fridge. 

Central Lending Library has at least two whole shelves groaning with recipe books and it’s heartening to see that there’s a good selection available on Overdrive too. I enjoyed reading a sample of The Clever Guts Diet Recipe Book by Dr Clare Bailey on Overdrive and I’m looking forward to borrowing it and trying out new meal recipes.”
Available to borrow as an ebook

Natasha from the Music Library wants to improve some skills she has been working on. She says,
“I haven’t really set myself any resolutions to learn a new skill this year. Instead, I want to improve ones I’m already developing.
I’m an avid knitter and have been knitting for around 10 years now, starting off with a scarf made from no particular pattern. Since then, I’ve made a wide variety of items but one thing I’d really like to learn how to do this year is to draft my own knitting pattern. I received a book about drafting for Christmas which has spurred me on. The various knitting magazines on both PressReader and RBdigital will definitely provide huge inspiration, helping me settle on shape, stitch patterns and construction methods!

Another thing I’d like to improve is my language learning skills. During last summer, I started learning Simplified Mandarin using a few apps on my phone. It’s a beautiful language that I’ve always been fascinated by and have always wanted to learn. I’m now at the point where I can recognise quite a few characters and I have a reasonable idea of what they might mean; I find myself reading the back of packets to test myself! I’d like to get to the point where I can read paragraphs of text and I think looking at the children’s Chinese language magazines available on PressReader will be a great help. I had a look at one the other day and saw the phrase “the girl had long, black hair” so I’m hopeful I’ll be able to understand a little more with further practice!”

Kevi from the Edinburgh and Scottish Collection has plans for gardening this year.
“As the clock struck midnight on 31 December 2020, I raised a glass to celebrate the passing of the strangest year of our collective lives, thankful that my family and friends were safe and realising how lucky we were to be so. On reflection, I realised that many New Years had passed in my life in the same way – with great hope and intentions to change but no action.                                                                                                                        

2020 wasn’t an easy year for anyone, for many it was a year full of tragedy, loss, incomprehension at the new world we were living in, and isolation. The first lockdown was intense, bringing into sharp relief the stagnation caused by years of fearing change and the realisation that when fear is in control, no change can happen. I promised myself that procrastination would rule me no more and a decision, long delayed, has been made, after many years in the same home and in the midst of a global pandemic, I am attempting to move to a new house! It is quite a journey, in fact, one of the most stressful things a person can do, so “why bother”, you might ask?

My longing for a garden is well documented and lockdown only increased my desperation to immerse my fingers in soil. I scaled up my indoor plant growing so much that my family and I now navigate our lives around a proliferation of large fronded friends, flourishing Peace Lily’s, spiky Cacti and Ferns…….my favourite being a little Maiden-Hair Fern which I bought online and am unreasonably attached to, fretting over the slightest crisping of delicate rounded leaf and fine-spraying every morning in devotion to its survival. I experimented with Ginger (so easy, who knew?) and Avocado (fiddly and takes a lot of time but so worth it). Plants have slowly taken over our house, a calming distraction in a year of strife and have convinced me that I must not wait another year but get myself a garden, not the easiest thing to find mid-winter in Edinburgh, a city of many tenements, but one has finally revealed itself as within reach and I can already visualise the veritable verdant forest of plants to be joyfully grown and enjoyed. 
So here is to New Year’s 2021 which, all being well, I hope to celebrate, finally, in my garden.”

Check out these gardening books suggested by Kevi:

Contini’s Kitchen Garden Cookbook by Carina Contini
Available to borrow as an ebook

Wild Your Garden by The Butterfly Brothers
Available to borrow as an ebook

Veg in One Bed: how to grow an abundance of food, in one raised bed, month by month by Huw Richards
Available to borrow as an ebook

Gardening for the Zombie Apocalypse by Isabel Lloyd and Phil Clarke
Available as an ebook and audiobook   

Ania from Central Lending has some different views about new year resolutions:
“I absolutely love planning things! 
I love knowing what I’m doing today and in the following days, from simple things like what I’m cooking for the family, where and at what time I’m going running, to where is the next holiday.
I’m ‘Miss Planning’ simply.

And yet… I’m not a big fan of new year’s resolutions, especially in current times, when it can be so unpredictable. 

I have to admit I’ve tried before, and I guess as many people, I’ve put trivial things on my “list”: do more exercise, read more, eat healthy, learn another language, loose a kilo or two, be more patient, spend more quality time with my children etc, etc.

Then I thought I don’t need the extra pressure in life, I’m more or less doing the above but without the stress of a written list that needs a tick next to it.

I certainly prefer a “mini, every day resolution”. I’ll try and do my daily run, or yoga, eat 5 of my 5 a day, listen to a great audiobook borrowed from the amazing library selection during my walk, learn few Spanish lessons on Duolingo etc but if I won’t manage…then fine, I’ll do it tomorrow 😁” 

We have got a huge selection of audiobooks which you can enjoy anytime, anywhere like Ania.
Check out our great collection of 1000+ ‘No wait’ audiobook titles.

We have got quite a few members of staff learning a new language this year.
Bageshri from Central Lending has started learning German this year. She says, “Just when 2020 was about to end, another lockdown was declared. With so much uncertainty going around and so much time in my hands, I thought of learning something new. I feel that learning a new skill gives you positivity with feeling of accomplishment. I was always good in literature in my school days and enjoyed learning languages. And was especially good at grammar. I have learnt 3 languages while in school (which is very common in India), Marathi as my mother tongue, Hindi as a national language and English as an international language. I had heard that the grammar of German is quite similar to my mother tongue, Marathi and it was always at the back of my mind that I should learn German one day.

So, here I am learning German now. At Edinburgh Libraries we have got a good collection of language learning material. Both in physical as well as electronic formats. Until our buildings reopen, check out our audiobook foreign language courses on Overdrive.

Apart from learning German I also have decided to practice Yoga and breathing meditation every day. I start my day with an hour of breathing meditation and some Yoga. And within a month, I can see the difference. I am feeling much happier, calmer and more productive throughout the day. In current situations, people are suffering with anxiety, stress, and negativity. I can say from experience that Yoga and meditation can definitely help to overcome these problems. Not only in current situations, but it definitely helps to make your life better.”
Explore ebooks for mindfulness on Overdrive.

Gema from Leith Library and currently also Central Library, has got something interesting to share with us. She says,
“My resolution for this year is not having any, to avoid disappointment! 😄
… but… I am developing a bigger interest on chi kung (or qigong). I enjoy practising it and it helps me feel better in a physical and mental, even emotional, way. It is easy to perform, you don´t need any equipment, it is fun and it can be energizing or relaxing, depending on what you are searching for. I have even used this in conjunction with acupressure to heal a headache or stomach pain.”

We have some physical book suggestions on qigong for when our buildings reopen.

We hope you enjoyed reading about our colleagues’ new year’s resolutions. Please drop a comment below if you would like to share your new year’s resolution or if you have been inspired to try something new after reading this post!

Some of our favourite books of 2020

In a year when we’ve turned to reading more than ever for escape and solace, we asked our library colleagues which was their book of the year.

Chris from Fountainbridge Library says her favourite book of the year is Those who are loved by Victoria Hislop.
“It is another wonderful weaving of stories from today back to a difficult and treacherous past. I liked it particuarly because it shines a light on a part of Greece’s history that is just at the edge of human memory and so reveals the youth of today’s great grandparents. It runs very true to some Greek friends own family memories. Victoria’s prose is very readable and the research never restricts a good story. A great book for a wet weekend.”
Available to borrow as an audiobook

Claire from the Information and Learning Resources Team recommends The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge.
“It’s a hazard of my job that I read mostly Young Adult Fiction, and this is no exception, but I’d urge adults to read it too. Set in Victorian times, it is about a young girl called Faith Sunderly who moves to a remote island with her father, a scientist who has been mysteriously disgraced. There, she discovers a tree that when fed a lie, uncovers a truth. When her father is murdered, her lies told to the tree become more and more dangerous and destructive in an effort to find out what happened to him. All the while she’s fighting with the constraints of being an intelligent girl interested in science in a time when she wasn’t allowed to have a career. The whole book is dripping with sinister tension and I loved the magical realism tied in with real science.” 
Available to borrow as an ebook

Susannah from Moredun Library says the book that has stuck most with her this year is The Choice by Clare Wade.
“I read this book in March, just as things started getting intense and the enormity of the pandemic was starting to sink in. A few elements of the book had striking similarities to what was playing out in the real world. This book follows the main character Olivia, previously a baker who is living in an almost dystopian future where the government, led by “Mother Mason”, controls its citizens choices and decisions around diet and exercise all in the name of health and happiness. Sweet treats are outlawed and government mandated exercise regimes are in place for all citizens. A small group of rebels is working under the surface against the injustices of the regime which violently punished anyone considered to be wrong-doing, under the guise of re-education schemes.
The book made me think a lot about a government’s place in setting regulations and restrictions which felt very relevant at the time. The character development of this woman who wished to cause no trouble, not break the rules and endanger her family was battling with desire to do what she loved, baking. Her change into a leader of a rebellion showed that anyone if given the right motivations will find a way to fight for what is right.”

Douglas from the Music Library picks Night Theatre by Vikram Paralkar
“I knew nothing about this book and, as with a lot of books I read, I have no idea why I choose it but I am very glad I did. Sometimes you get lucky and sometimes you strike out.
Night Theatre is a strange different ghost story of a put-upon doctor, fleeing a scandal and practising in a remote village, where his work is overseen by a corrupt lesser official, the doctor finds himself trying to save the lives of a family who have been attacked and murdered in another place.
Described as otherworldly and a haunting contemplation of life death and the liminal space between. A hot dirty dusty tale which is ultimately about hope and redemption. This is another title for my short, but growing, list of books which have completely surprised me, by how much I have enjoyed them.”
Available to borrow as an ebook

Bronwen from the Art and Design and Music Libraries recommends two very different books, firstly, English pastoral: an inheritance by James Rebanks:
“You might follow the Lakeland farmer and author James Rebanks on Twitter and Instagram – I love his photographs of Herdwick sheep – or you might have read his earlier books The Shepherd’s Life and The Illustrated Herdwick Shepherd. 
I picked up a copy of Reebanks’ latest book English Pastoral whilst on a very welcome break to the Lake District in September and want to shout out to everyone please read this book. A moving memoir of farming history tracing back from Reebanks’s grandfather to the present day, this book explains why we have lost so many species of birds from our hedgerows and why so many farmers have been forced to adopt unsustainable farming methods just to survive. But this is ultimately a book of hope and wonder beautifully written. Guided by what Reebanks learns from both his grandfather and his father’s later disillusionment with factory farming, Reebanks salvages from this a new, sustainable approach to farming that shows us all a path for the future. Working with environmental groups Reebanks describes how he has increased the biodiversity of his farm, reclaimed some of the farming methods of his grandfather, but also created a way forward for farming to work in tandem with nature.” 
The Shepherd’s Life is available to borrow as an ebook and audiobook.

Bronwen’s second choice is Ghosts by Dolly Alderton
“My daughters, both in their 20s, recommended Dolly Alderton’s Ghosts to me. As a fan of Dolly Alderton and Pandora Sykes’s podcast The High Low (sadly now finished) about both popular and contemporary news and culture I was very keen to read Dolly Alderton’s first novel Ghosts. 
The novel centres around a year in the life of Nina Dean who has just hit her thirties. Set in London Nina has just bought her own very small flat and is a successful food writer but Nina’s thirties are not cracked up to be what she expected with friends drifting away to the suburbs with husbands and children, the challenges of dating and dating apps, and her own parents succumbing to issues presented by ageing. The men in the book including the married ones are largely, but not all thankfully, commitment-phobic and irresponsible. The title of the book Ghosts refers to the phenomenon of ‘ghosting’ whereby you are just dropped with no explanation, not even a text, no contact with someone you previously thought was really into you.
I’m trying not to give too much away but this book is a great read with really acute and witty observations of human behaviour and helps me understand something about the challenges of the world in which millennials find themselves. Sad in places but also very funny this book is a great eye opener and a testament in the end to friendship and family.” 
Available to borrow as a audiobook 

Ailsa from Central Lending and Central Children’s tells us about Legendborn by Tracy Deonn
“I’ve always read a lot of books written by women, but this year I tried to read more books from Black authors too. One of my favourites this year was Legendborn by Tracy Deonn. With a background rooted in the racist history of the American South, Legendborn tells the story of a young black girl, Bree, who attends a prestigious college on a scholarship program and soon finds that she can see things that her friends can’t – magical things.
Soon she ends up involved in secret societies, fighting monsters, myths and legends. What makes this different from the average fantasy novel is that Deonn doesn’t ignore the legacy of slavery and the impact this has on a magical world, and the perspective this offers is both challenging and rewarding.
Oh, and did I mention it’s based on the King Arthur legend? It may be aimed at teenagers and young adults but there’s a lot in there for us not-so-young adults to enjoy too.” 

Zoe from Central Library’s book, or series, of the year is Ali Smith’s ‘Seasons’ quartet, comprising Autumn, Winter, Spring and finishing with Summer.
“This is one of those series which you can dip in and out of, not having to read all the books, and not having to stick to the sequence, but if you do, you will have something much greater than the sum of its parts. You might feel as I did, that you’d been given an intricate, thought-provoking present. 
‘Seasons’ is an epic story broken into four pieces. It’s not easy to pigeonhole, but I feel it tells the story of the UK over the last 50-odd years through a cast of characters at various stages of their lives, from childhood to hovering at Death’s door. Some of these characters are revisited in the other books, or just fleetingly alluded to, and this helps to mesh the stories together and create the sense of a many-layered ‘whole’, full of connections and coincidences – just as in real life.
Alongside the personal stories of her fiction characters there are the real social and political events going on around them, and everything, everybody is portrayed with honesty – warts and all. There is a lot to be aggrieved about in the picture of ourselves and our world that she presents us, but she has such a light and humane touch, so I think it’s an ultimately hopeful picture. 
It’s such a pleasure to read these books because she is clearly a writer who has found her voice, and the confidence with which she takes the narratives across time and space, in and out of dream states, or just anywhere she pleases, shines through.
Her writing is very often playful, but definitely not whimsical or meandering – she is in full control of her material and she masterfully weaves all the experiences of her characters, their particular contexts and perspectives into an amazingly subtle portrait of Britain. And I think there is enough depth and breadth in this portrait that most readers would find something to relate to, and something that moves them. 
If you’re like me, you’ll tear through these books and wish there were more. Smith is such a mesmerising storyteller. She is a safe pair of hands, to put it mildly, and I’d go willingly wherever she wants to lead, which is not something I could say for more than 5 other authors, ever. Bravo!”
Autumn is available to borrow as an ebook
Winter is available to borrow as an ebook
Spring is available to borrow as an ebook
Summer is available to borrow as an audiobook

Heather from South Queensferry and Kirkliston Libraries chooses The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. 
“This is a book that was always on my periphery as it sat on the shelf in the children’s department at Blackhall Library.  For some reason it always caught my eye, but I never wanted to read it.  I was almost annoyed at it sitting there, staring at me as I worked.  However, it is when you can’t have something that you most want it, so this wee book was still haunting me as Covid-19 hit and I finally borrowed the ebook.  I feel so sad that I neglected this story for so long as it’s an absolute pleasure to read and one I will be sharing with family and friends for a long time to come.
Despite a horrific start in life, orphaned Nobody Owens (Bod) is a normal boy who happens to live in a graveyard where he is raised and protected by the resident ghosts. Bod is given the Freedom of the Graveyard where he is safe to play and explore and thanks to Neil Gaiman’s wonderful storytelling, the graveyard becomes as familiar a place to the reader as it is to Bod.  A cast of quirky, spectral characters contribute their knowledge and ghostly powers to Bod’s unconventional upbringing, but danger is never far away, and the man Jack has some unfinished business.  How will Bod cope when he leaves the graveyard and the protection of its walls?
A special mention to Chris Riddell’s fabulously macabre illustrations which are a real delight, and I was surprised they worked so well in the ebook version. 
Don’t be like me, give The Graveyard Book a go, it won’t take you long to read and you won’t be disappointed!” 
Available to borrow as an ebook

One of Susan from the Digital Team’s favourite books was My Name is Why by Lemn Sissay.
“I hadn’t ever read any of Lemn’s poetry and decided to read this autobiography after seeing Lemn on a TV interview. The story of his early life is both riveting and heart-breaking. You feel that you are side by side with this beautiful, happy child whilst the most unbelievably cruelty is inflicted upon him by the people that are suppose to protect him. Focussing not just on his own story, but also the wider issues of the care system, this memoir is written with searing honesty. Stripped progressively of his origins, family and even his name we see Lemn fight to make sense of what has happened to him and to find out who he really is. Ultimately it’s a story of hope and survival, but without sanitising the long lasting effects that the past have inflicted.”
Available to borrow as an ebook and an audiobook

Mel from Corstorphine Library particularly enjoyed Hotel Silence by Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir
“This quirky book is translated from Icelandic and is a really easy and engaging read.
Hotel Silence tells the story of Jonas, a middle aged man whose life is falling apart. He decides to buy a one-way ticket to a war ravaged country and commit suicide. Although the story may sound a little grim, the author handles the subject well and instead of a depressing read, Jonas meets a cast of weird, wonderful and brave characters who help him to find meaning and purpose in his life again. I found the characters to be really likeable and the style of writing is so beautifully done. I also read the author’s newest book ‘Miss Iceland’ this year and loved it as well. She seems to have endings that really make a statement!”
Available to borrow as an ebook

Alison from the Digital Team recommends The garden jungle, or, Gardening to save the planet by Dave Goulson
“This book will appeal to anyone interested in gardens, flowers or the nature that is on our doorstep. The author does not shy away from discussing controversial subjects like the use of pesticides and their potentially devastating impact on nature, but the book focuses on the role everyone can have to make a difference for nature. There is lots of advice and ideas for transforming your green space whatever the size to attract wildlife whether it is choosing plants to attract bees and other insects or creating places for nature to thrive. I have been inspired to try out some new gardening ideas in 2021, and look forward to welcoming new wildlife residents or visitors to my allotment plot.”

Doris from Central Lending really enjoyed Dear reader: the comfort and joy of books by Cathy Rentzenbrink.
“In this book, the author intersperses her life story with intriguing details of the main characters and/or plot, of her favourite books. What shines through in Dear reader is her love of books and how reading brings so much comfort and joy to her life. 
For me, Dear reader acted as a gateway to other authors and novels and following Cathy Rentzenbrink’s recommendation, I read Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively. This is a wonderful novel and also one of my favourite books of 2020.” 
Moon Tiger is available to borrow as an ebook

Nicola from South Queensferry and Kirkliston Libraries has two favourite books from this very peculiar year. Her first is The cat and the city by Nick Bradley:
“This collection of short stories linked by the same little calico cat both amazed and astonished me. For those like me who are not usually fans of the short stories format do not be put off. This reads more like a coherent work of fiction and flows so easily. The constantly evolving city of Tokyo holds your attention and the same set of central characters are cleverly interwoven between chapters. The universal themes of belonging and loneliness are explored in a sensitive and darkly comic way.”
Available to borrow as an ebook 

Nicola’s second recommendation is Normal people by Sally Rooney.
“I was one of the many people during lockdown to binge my way through all of the episodes of Normal People. I had read that the TV version whilst visually stunning and addictive viewing was not entirely true to the book. Usually being someone who must read the book first I approached the book  with huge expectation. It did not disappoint and the main difference I found was that the inner voices of Marianne and Connor were far more evident. There are also a more dynamic and broader range of relationships conveyed. There are many issues and themes, in particular around mental health which are dealt with in a profound and sensitive way. I urge you to give the book a try even if you think you know the story from TV.”
Available to borrow as an ebook 

Nikki from Corstorphine’s stand out read for 2020 is Beloved by Toni Morrison.
“This amazing novel was a mix of some of my favourite genres – magic realism, historical fiction, and with just a touch of horror and suspense. Set in Ohio in 1873, the story centres around Sethe. Born into slavery, despite the odds Sethe manages to escape and create a new life for herself. However, she still struggles with the memories of the Sweet Home plantation in Kentucky, and is haunted by the thought of those she left behind or couldn’t save. One day a mysterious girl arrives at the door and brings some of Sethe’s darkest memories and secrets with her.
I really couldn’t put this book down once I’d started reading. I loved the journey of getting to know Sethe’s character and background slowly, and never knowing what I’d feel next turning each page! The story can be devastatingly sad at times, but uplifting and philosophical at others. Sadly Toni Morrison passed away in 2019, but left many other incredible stories, including the Bluest Eye and Song of Solomon. I’m looking forward to reading these and anything else I can find by her.” 
Beloved is available to borrow as an ebook and an audiobook

Clare from the Digital Team most enjoyed The Dutch House by Ann Patchett.
“The Dutch House was an engrossing family saga that transported me across the Atlantic and back in time. It’s a poignant story of family love and loss and a reminder that dwelling on a past, especially one seen through the rose-tinted lens of nostalgia, is futile: appreciate what you have here and now.”
Available to borrow as an ebook

Bageshri from Central Lending chose When breath becomes air by Paul Kalanithi.
“It is a memoir of a 36-year-old neurosurgeon who has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. This book takes the reader on a journey of the author’s life from being a student, to a doctor, to a patient and a father. The journey becomes emotional and painful. The book makes the reader think about what the most important things in life are. In today’s world we are so behind the materialistic things. But for someone who is facing a death, all those things become worthless. And it becomes even worse when the person doesn’t know how many years, months, or even days are left. As the author says, “The truth that you live one day at a time didn’t help: What was I supposed to do with that day?”
We take so many things for granted in life. But when the ugly side of the life shows its face unexpectedly, our whole perspective towards life changes. A very touching and eye-opening book, which taught me to appreciate whatever I have got in my life!”
Available to borrow as an ebook and an audiobook

Catherine from Muirhouse, and more recently Kirkliston, also sneaks in two recommendations. Her first book of the year is The Emperor Waltz by Philip Hensher.
“I spent a while wracking my brains for two books which stayed with me this year. One followed the fortunes of the founder members of a gay bookshop in 1980s London. The other visited Weimar Germany and the students of the Bauhaus school – rather green, rather muddled, very skint and trying their best. It was only when I looked back through this year’s library loans that I remembered that these were two of the various storylines in this one book – which could fairly be described as a ‘sprawling read’ but is also by turns chatty, wise and very funny. I picked it up in Stockbridge Library on the last day before closure and it turned out to be a perfect lockdown read.

Catherine’s second choice is Bearmouth by Liz Hyder.
“This haunting YA novel is set deep underground in a coal mine, but doesn’t tie itself to any real time or place. It’s written entirely in an invented, mis-spelled dialect which is charmingly childlike but also pulls you right into the central character’s bodily experiences as Newt Coombes becomes more aware of what another life might offer and how it might be reached. The horrible world of the mine is brilliantly drawn and there is a decent assortment of goodies and baddies and in-betweenies, but it’s Newt’s voice which is the wow-factor here.”  

Ania from Central Lending recommends My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante.
“I have only just recently discovered Elena Ferrante’s novels.  I was mesmerized by the Neapolitan series – four novels that make up a single book. My Brilliant Friend is a gripping first volume in the widely acclaimed series.
The novel creates an unsentimental portrait of female experience, rivalry and friendship. It also happens to be a history of Italy in the late 20th century, as the story begins in the 1950s, in a chaotic, impoverished and violent but vibrant neighbourhood in Naples. Taken together, the novels span some 50 years, chronicling the life-long friendship between Lila Cerullo and Elena Greco. 
I love the story, it is rich on so many levels, it touches many different subjects: friendships, education, family life, but also difficult choices we all need to make. It is sometimes incredibly sad, thought-provoking and disturbing, other times calm and cheerful. It is a series I certainly recommend, and a 5-star read for me.” 
My Brilliant Friend is available to borrow as an ebook and an audiobook

We hope we’ve given you a little reading inspiration for 2021.

And remember, whilst our libraries remain closed, you can borrow and download many of these titles and hundreds more from our Library2go service from home.

Reading around the world by Hope Whitmore and Cecylia O’May

One part of the library I have always felt drawn to is the travel spinner. Diagonal to the travel guides, it’s easy to walk past on the way to other books – useful books, which tell you where to stay in foreign cities, what restaurants to eat at, how to see the sights in a day. Suddenly though travel guides are no longer what they were. Instead of a selection of possibilities, we are faced, on opening them, with a world of impossibility. There is a sadness to these useful books, a wistfulness to the festivals listed, the convivial atmosphere cited, the bustling cafes and packed streets described.

2020 has been the year that travel went away, leaving us alone, as it were on a dusty train platform, our little case in hand, with no place to go, and no way to get there. Travel guides are poetic reminders of a world we once had, and will have again, but maybe not for a while.

The travel spinner is different. These books are not designed for purpose, rather they represent adventure, exploration and discovering something as yet undiscovered.

In this spinner are tales of Arctic adventures, walks across the Middle East, people who relocated to France or Spain or Italy and found something of themselves on the way. Spanning decades and centuries, the travel spinner tells not only of destinations the authors have visited, but the dusty slopes or frozen tundra they traversed to get there, and the people they met on the way.

While travel guides feel sad, robbed for now, of their purpose, these narratives of adventures old and new, ranging from Robert Byron’s The road to Oxiana to Rory Stewart’s The Places In Between charting his walk across war torn Afghanistan in 2002, the travel spinner contains books which can transport you not only to different places, but also different times, even in these Covid days.

Here, library staff members Hope Whitmore and Cecylia O’May choose their favourite books which can take you on adventures, even as you sit at home.

Berlin: Imagine a City by Rory MacLean is Cecylia’s favourite travel book, although as the member of staff who runs the Found In Translation Book Group, she is someone who literally reads around the world.

Berlin by Rory MacLean is not your typical travel book. Although it tells the story of Berlin, it is not your typical history book either. It takes you on a journey through Berlin with people who lived there. Starting with the portrait of poet, Konrad von Cölln in medieval times, and arriving at the twenty-first century and the story of Ilse Philips, a child who came to the UK in the Kinder transport. Along the way it tells the stories of Frederick the Great, Kathe Kollwitz, Marlene Dietrich, John F. Kennedy, David Bowie and many more characters who shaped that great city. 

First and foremost, it tells the story of Berlin from its brightest to its darkest moments. It’s a great read not only for those who know Berlin but also for those who have never been. This book will inspire you to go and visit one day when it’s safe to do so.”

Hope, who works in Central Lending, cites her favourite travel book as Laurie Lee’s As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning.

“As young man, with very little money, Laurie Lee set out from his family’s small village in Gloucestershire, on foot, to London, where he lived in boarding houses for a year, scribbling poetry and making money where he could, before boarding a boat to Spain. 

‘Take me with you,’ say all the girls, and before he leaves his landlady’s young daughter – a child – stands on tiptoes, kisses his cheek and whispers ‘take me with you,’ too.

Flawed by the very things which create the magic — the youthful exuberance of the young Laurie Lee, and the nostalgia of the older author looking back on days which were almost certainly not as innocent and carefree as he thinks — As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning, is enchanting, evocative and immersive, taking the reader to Spain in 1935. A Spain with long dry roads, bosky wine, dry bread, friendly people, and the rumblings, distant but ever nearer, of fascism.

The book ends with Laurie Lee being unwillingly rescued; evacuated to Gibraltar, with other British citizens, and from there taken home. The next year, he took a boat to France, crossing the Pyrenees in the snow alone to reach Spain and join the Republicans in their battle against Franco, as Fascism came in like an unstoppable wave over much of Europe. He wrote of this experience in A Moment of War.”

You may not be able to travel at the moment, but the travel spinner awaits you in the newly reopened Central Lending, ready to take you on adventures the world over.

Six of our libraries have reopened for browsing and borrowing. Please book your visit in advance via our online booking form or by phoning the library.

Reading towards an anti-racist world

Today, our blog is handed over to Roshni who works in the Library Resource Management Team.

“I’m a Library Adviser for Edinburgh Libraries as well as a poet and a writer. I’m also a Woman of Colour and a member of an Edinburgh-based Women of Colour (WOC) Reading group. This past week there has been an increase in the discussion over how to combat racism in our communities. This comes in response to a history of anti-Black racism and racial injustice – most recently the murder of George Floyd in the US and the race hate attack on Belly Mujinga in the UK. Working in a library, I know that books are a great tool to educate and affect positive change in the world. Under lockdown I have found myself with more time to read and I have been making use of Edinburgh Libraries’ digital collection. I have had several people get in touch with me asking for book recommendations – so I have compiled a short list of anti-racist non-fiction and fiction books which I have personally enjoyed and found informative. All of these are available via the library and most are also currently available as an ebook or audiobook.

Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison writes beautifully and powerfully about the Black experience. Every sentence that Morrison writes is precise and packed with meaning. This book is a coming-of-age story following Macon Dead jr, AKA Milkman, who is the son of a wealthy Black family in 1930s America. In this novel Morrison deals with the themes of pain, escape, and forgiveness. It is a story about masculinity, family, and patriarchy. All of Toni Morrison’s books are worth reading – and this is one of her best.
Available as an audiobook

The Good Immigrant edited by Nikesh Sukla
This is a collection of personal essays by Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) people in the UK. This is a good way to read about the racism that lurks in our homes and in our communities. In this collection there are moments of comedy, moments of grief, and moments of anger. All the essays in this collection are very moving. For example, the teacher and writer Darren Chetty discusses how his primary school aged students believed that the main characters in story books had to be white.
Available as an audiobook

Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
This book addresses racism in Britain today and the reluctance of white people to discuss it. It’s a good starting point if you’re striving to learn more about racism at a systemic level. This book is primarily aimed at white readers and the title refers to Eddo-Lodge’s fatigue at having to continually explain racism. In the introduction she states that when she talks about race to white people, ‘You can see their eyes shut down and harden… It’s like they can no longer hear us’. This book has won the Jhalak prize and has received international acclaim.
(Available as an ebook and as an audiobook)

Surge by Jay Bernard
This is a collection of poetry that was written with the Grenfell tragedy at the heart of it. Bernard melds Britain’s past with its present, expressing what it means to be Black and British in the modern day. ‘Surge’ won the Ted Hughes award for new poetry.



Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde
This is an essential collection of essays and speeches and includes her famous essay  ‘The  Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle The Master’s House.’ Lorde writes about the intersection between race, gender, and sexuality. Her collection ‘Your Silence Will Not Protect You’ is also available at branches in paperback. I found this collection formative in my personal understanding of racism – Lorde writes about the necessity to speak out against racism in all forms at all times.
Available as an ebook

How to be an antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
This is a highly informative read. Kendi dissects each way in which a person can be consciously and subconsciously racist. Kendi argues that no one can be neutral when it comes to racism – we can only ever be either anti-racist or racist. Kendi invites us to interrogate our own unconscious racial biases. Kendi also discusses quick changes we can make to the language we use to discuss racism. For example, he suggests using the more apt ‘racial abuse’ instead of ‘microaggression’.”

What books are staff reading to help them through the lockdown?

We asked staff at Central Library to tell us a bit about the books they’ve been reading that have helped them through lockdown.

It turns out we’ve got a bit of a Marian Keyes fan club with a number of us reading her books that so engagingly tackle complex and difficult subjects with humour. Depression, alcoholism, bulimia, being broke, being unlucky in love … you name it … why are we reading about all these topics just now?

Fiona who’s been reading The Mystery of Mercy Close says `the reason it helps is basically because of the humour in it even though the main character suffers from depression’. Lesley is just starting on The Break, Joanna is reading Lucy Sullivan is Getting Married and Bronwen’s reading Grown Ups and says `I can be in someone else’s life while I’m reading; I love the characters and even though the book portrays real personal suffering, I’m laughing out loud one minute and crying the next’.  So thank you Marian Keyes – your writing is clearly helping us pull through. All of the Marian Keyes books noted are available from Edinburgh City Libraries’ RBdigital audiobook service.

Some books we read help us put our troubles in perspective. Doris’ last two are American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins and Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara.

Doris says “Both reminded me that as challenging as things are with lockdown –  the situation could be so much worse! Djinn Patrol deals with poverty and the slums in India and is heartbreaking yet is told with a deft sense of humour by the main character Jai. I loved the first 100 pages of American Dirt but must admit, I found it a bit implausible, as misery upon misery was heaped on the protagonists as the book progressed.”

Sometimes we want to read old favourites. Joanna has gone back to re-reading Terry Pratchett’s Discworld stories. She says they are a “total escape from everyday problems and a lot of fun”. Discworld is a parallel time and place which might sound and smell like our own but looks completely different. Start with The Colour of Magic.

Historical stories set in difficult times can provide a sense of perspective on today. After reading a magazine article about the history of Agony Aunt columns, Clare found a suggested read, Dear Mrs Bird by A.J. Pearce on Overdrive. “Set during the London Blitz, it doesn’t avoid the hardships and destruction experienced on the home front, yet manages to be light-hearted and optimistic in tone. The  characters have setbacks but refuse to be beaten by events. Every day routine, worries, friendships and romances carry on. It was the perfect, easy, uplifting book I needed right now.”

A bit of time can also see you getting round to a book you’ve thought about reading. Jeanette says:
“During lockdown, I read a book I’ve meant to get to for ages, which is This Is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay. I might be the one of the few people in the country to not to have read this book since it was written in 2017 to great acclaim. It’s a collection of Kay’s secret diary entries which he wrote whilst working as a junior doctor. As a woman of a certain age, experiencing hot flushes and insomnia, I started to read it at 3am one dark morning, hoping it would help me drift back to sleep. I could not have been more wrong. It is both hilarious and shocking from the offset, filled with the author’s experiences of working on the front line of the NHS. By the time I had reached page 22, an account involving objects stuck in orifices, the book had to be put down as I was unable to stifle the laughter any longer and was in danger of waking my sleeping partner up!

This is not a book for the faint hearted or easily offended: strong language is used throughout, there are details of gruesome injuries that made me cringe, truly heartbreaking stories about births and deaths, and “a constant tsunami of bodily fluids” throughout. That said, it is an important book for all of us and especially now, as it is an eye opener, and insight into our essential yet underfunded and overstretched NHS.

After the first 22 pages, I took the book downstairs where it became my day time read. I could laugh out loud all I wanted to it, and also shed a tear as it is genuinely devastating in parts. I’ve finished the book now, but have gone back to it and from time to time read the funny bits to my partner and son which always raises a laugh. I have come to ‘This Is Going to Hurt’ late but I’m glad I did because it’s been a fantastic and uplifting addition to my time in lockdown.”
This is going to hurt is available to borrow as an audiobook and ebook.

Tell us what you’ve been reading in lockdown and how it’s helped.


Enjoy music concerts online

With concert halls and opera houses closed many orchestras are now entertaining us with streaming channels. The staff of the Music Library have put together some suggestions for listening at home.

The Royal Scottish National Orchestra launched their Friday Night Club on the 27 March and are making concerts free to view. Join RSNO at 7.30pm on Friday nights. You can also watch an earlier performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No.3 Eroica recorded in February 2020.

Love opera? Join the Polish National Opera where you can watch performances for free, live and on demand.  The Met Opera are making available nightly opera streams to suit all tastes: watch Rossini’s Barber of Seville or Bellini’s Norma. The Royal Opera House in London have put together classic clips from their Covent Garden home for watching remotely.

For more of a range of musical styles one of our latest favourite sites is Arte Concert – lots of music, concerts and art-related documentaries with a bonus that you can navigate the site in different languages.

This is an ever-updating list of times that various musicians and artists are performing livestreams over various platforms collated by NPR Music.

Classic FM have collated an amazing range of orchestras from across the globe streaming music to keep us entertained: this list is being regularly updated.

If you want to play music, Jess Gillam has started a Virtual Scratch Orchestra for all instruments and abilities. A great way for people to keep playing in a community at a time we physically can’t be there.

Singer and pianist Myleene Klass is giving music lessons from home Myleene’s Music Klass and you don’t need instruments! Myleene with the aid of her daughters is teaching us basic rhythms, teaching the difference between major and minor, and learning about dynamics. Great for all ages!

And don’t forget, your library card gives you access to Naxos Music Library and Naxos Jazz to stream or download classical and jazz music. No visuals but good for creating your own playlists.

Keep listening. Keep playing. Music has the power to lift our spirits through difficult times.

Read another blog post giving staff recommendations for watching and taking part in dance online – Are ye’ dancing?

Comfort reads, while we’re away

This blog post is written by Hope who works in our Central Lending Library.

“I miss the library. I miss asking you whether you liked your book when you bring it back and being told it was great. I miss the people who tell me it was a load of rubbish. I miss seeing you pick up that reservation you’ve been waiting weeks for. I miss the ordinariness, the comforting familiarity of life as we knew it, before this.

In The Cazalet Chronicles, Polly – one of three girl cousins – describes the Second World War as boring and frightening at once. I struggled to get my head round this. If you are frightened, how can you be bored, I thought.

I get it now.

Yet even when we’re closed, there are still books, and while it’s always exciting to encounter a new voice, a new author, but during the worst times in my own life, I find myself reaching for well-thumbed old Penguins which I have read several times before, the stories which are old friends, familiar – when nothing else is, books which will hold your hand, and get you through.

Everyone has their own, the stories which you can escape into, knowing they will provide comfort, while not remembering every little detail, so you still find things to surprise you – doorways and alleys you didn’t see when first you visited the book.

For me, these are my comfort reads. The books I choose to get lost in, time and again.

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
The Mortmaim family live in a beautiful old castle, which is falling down around them. Told in diary form by fifteen year old Cassandra, the novel is at once cosy and whimsical. A love story and a coming of age novel, with hints of the Jane Austen novels, which Cassandra and her sister Rose are so obsessed with, only truer somehow.

Written during World War Two, when Dodie Smith was living in America, it is a nostalgic book, a glimpse back at an idealised time, but not too idealised. The Mortmains have no money, and have experienced their share of loss, and the girls make terrible mistakes in their tentative, enthusiastic forays into love.

I came late to I Capture the Castle, after hearing it cited for years as a comfort read. Now, I feel unable to keep away. The world of Cassandra and Rose, and their ramshackle castle with the moat, is endlessly compelling, funny, sad, and true to how girls feel on the brink of growing up. 

Black Swan Green by David Mitchell
Recently I saw a post on Twitter suggesting that Black Swan Green should replace Catcher in the Rye, as the coming of age novel. While lots of people love Catcher, I found it didn’t speak to me, while I found Black Swan Green – the story of a thirteen year old with a stammer, growing up in a normal, but possibly haunted, English backwater – immensely compelling and true to the things we all think and feel when we’re kids. The story has a ghost, a bully, a dangerous older cousin, and a fascinating old lady who once knew a young composer who wrote an opus called Cloud Atlas.

David Mitchell fans will know how his novels overlap, tantalising readers who know what happens in earlier and later novels. 

The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford
Linda Radlett, is young, giddy, and obsessed by the idea of love. Narrated by her cousin, Fanny, daughter of ‘The Bolter,’ this novel is a biting satire of a world of debutantes and aristocrats, but also a tender, sweet portrait of a girl lost in the midst on the twentieth century. Travelling through the Spanish Civil War, Occupied France and a long-gone England, this book is beautifully romantic, terribly sad and weirdly comforting.

I first read this aged twelve, and didn’t understand a lot of it. Revisiting it in my late teens, and then in my thirties, I realised how I love this novel, and the catty wonderful author who wrote it, herself one of six girls whose lives were all touched by the events of the twentieth century, some more tragically than others.
This title is available as an ebook and audiobook

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
When my Dad first read me this, I cowered under the covers, terrified by the chained convict who jumps out at Pip in the lonely graveyard. As an adult I know that there were far worse monsters in the book than the convict Magwitch.

This novel contains the fabled Miss Havisham, and her ward Estella, shut away in the cobwebby Satis House. It’s a book which will break your heart – especially when Pip turns his back on Old Joe, who bought him up (this scene always gets me) – but it’s also an excellent gothic adventure through late Georgian and early Victorian London.

Published in 1861, during the age of industrialisation and scientific progress, the novel looks back on the early 1800s, a time of superstition, ghosts glimpsed through the mists of the fens, convict ships with loud fog horns, and that sense of life and adventure which comes from being on the brink of something about to happen.
This title is available as an ebook and audiobook.

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel
It might seem weird to recommend a novel about a plague, and call it a comfort read, especially now, but Station Eleven in which 99.9% of us die of flu, is weirdly hopeful. While Mandel doesn’t shy away from darkness and horror, the cutting between before and after the pandemic is incredible in the way it introduces us to characters, making us love them, hate them, root for them, curse at them, and hope they make it from the before into the after.

Twenty years after the plague a theatre group and orchestra tour the wastes of Canada in a caravan pulled by horses. Their slogan, taken from Star Trek is ‘Survival is Insufficient.’ On the way, they encounter a sinister prophet, and his cult.

It’s a book about what survives, and how art, and love and music matter, perhaps more so, even when everything is bleak. It’s catty, and clever and kind, and offers an excellent take down of people who say ‘Everything Happens for a Reason,’ showing the full poison of this point of view.”
This title is available as an ebook and audiobook.

Thank you Hope.


Desert Island Discs – Eamonn from the Digital Team

The latest library staff member to be banished to our desert island is Eamonn from the Digital Team.

We hand over to Eamonn to explain his choices –

1 Vol.4., Ethio jazz & Musique Instrumentale 1969-1974

I feel that nothing sounds quite like Ethiopian music. I suppose like many people, I became familiar with the country’s music through the fabled 30 volume CD series called Ethiopiques which focuses on a “golden” period of music in Ethiopia’s cultural history.

The series highlights the time between the mid 1950s and 1974 where a huge wave of outstanding big bands and singers had emerged – sparking off a massive musical explosion, resulting in the production of hundreds of recordings. This was all brought to an end in 1974 during a revolution, which left the country in the hands of a military dictatorship that remained in power until 1991. With rigorous censorship and strict curfews, many musicians were imprisoned, forced to stop playing or escaped into exile.

I love the series – the attention to detail, from programming to design, to notes, to mastering – have defined this body of work which has become virtually the sole representation of an essential musical culture.

Many volumes are worthy of a Desert Island Disc or two but perhaps the best entry point is Vol. 4 – showcasing the man who invented ‘Ethio-jazz’, Mulatu Astatke and devoted to his blend of Abyssinian swing.

2 Life on Earth: Music from the 1979 BBC TV series / composed by Edward Williams

Life on Earth was a landmark television natural history series produced by the BBC and Sir David Attenborough which aired in the UK in January 1979. Surprisingly, for such an influential series, its soundtrack was privately pressed – only 100 copies were ever made and distributed by composer Edward Williams to members of his orchestra. Scarce copies languished in thrift shops for three decades before finally being resurrected (with Sir Dave’s blessing) in 2009.

What surprised me further still was how beautiful the music was – a Desert Island Disc session would not be complete without staring into the sea surrounded by the magical, ambient sounds of science, nature and music for jellyfish.

3 Philip Cohran and the Artistic Heritage Ensemble

Phil Cohran was my favourite jazz composer – his ensembles contained one of the most idiosyncratic takes on 60s avant jazz this side of Sun Ra (Cohran was once an early member of Ra’s arcane troupe). He wasn’t just a musician but an inventor of musical instruments – from customised violin-ukes to his most famous creation, his Frankiphone – an amplified thumb piano which rattled spookily around his ragged rhythm tracks. I’d hope with time that I would develop the patience and ingenuity to fashion my own desert island instrument – or at the very least I could always find a shell that made an interesting noise when blown into!

Book: Life: A User’s Manual by Georges Perec

I think this book would keep me occupied on the island – Perec’s output is extremely varied in form and style: sometimes bewilderingly so. From crossword puzzles and poetry to palindromes, autobiography and straight narrative – he did the lot and made a rule to never write the same thing twice. In his novel Void, he systematically avoids the letter ‘e’, for an entire novel! He did balance things out though – writing a short story after Void where the only vowel used was ‘e’ (easy peasy lemon squeezy… ok, so it’s harder than it sounds!).

Life maps the interconnecting lives of the residents of a fictitious apartment block in Paris with an unfolding structure that follows the logic of chess moves.

It was written according to a complicated writing plan (thankfully with ‘e’s included this time) and its 99 chapters can be read in any order. Guided by a 70-page index, a chronology, a checklist of 100 or more main stories, an apartment block elevation plan as a 10×10 grid of the building in which the action takes place and a profound interest in jigsaws. This book is the literary equivalent of a sudoku puzzle – one that you will keep returning to and worthy of being stranded with.

Luxury item: Tin of Vaseline (Aloe Vera) – no sense in having chapped lips in the sun!

Desert Island Discs – Eleonora from Central Lending Library

Eleonora has been with the library for a few years now, working in the busy Lending department. She is also part of the imaginative team who run our Childrens’ Art Club. The thriving art club runs every second Wednesday and program a wide and varied selection of arts activities for their members.

We unfortunately had a to and fro of emails, as we were unable to provide Eleonora’s original choice of Music, so today we have no Metallica, listened to so much the cassettes were destroyed or, Faith No More which reminded Eleonora of studying for her art degree in Bologna.

Desert Island Discs

John Grant  –  Pale Green Ghosts
Eleonora says:

“amazing album I used listened all the time when I moved in Scotland, is perfect for any kind of mood”

Eleonora would like “anything by Ella Fitzgerald” so we suggest Ella Fitzgerald   –  At The Opera House 

and she also asked for anything by Creedance Clearwater Revival, so we offer The Best of Creedence Clearwater Revival

Book(s): The Name of the Rose and American Psycho …as we had a bit of difficulty fulfilling Eleonora’s music choices we have allowed both of her requests…

Eleonora said,

“I would like if I can chose two books, they are very important for me”

The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco I just love the book and the movie as well, I got this book in my father’s “personal library” at home, when I started to read, I did not stop for hours. It reminds me my father and my house in south Italy.


American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis – it was one of the books for my art degree. This book just drove me nuts, if I can say so. Brilliant book.


Luxury item: One of my father pipes, because sometimes I like to sit and smoke next to the window, look outside and get lost in my thoughts. 

Some of our favourite books of 2019 (continued)

We asked colleagues to share with us the book they’d most enjoyed this past year.

Jen from the Art and Design Library chose Edward Ardizzone: Artist and Illustrator by Alan Powers.

“I was asked what library book I’ve enjoyed most this year and could I write about it, just a paragraph. To begin with this stumped me. It’s a tricky question – with a superlative in it too (what about all those other books?)… and then I thought of Alan Powers’ Edward Ardizzone: Artist and Illustrator. Sometimes, some things, just really are good.

It’s a large book, from the Art & Design Library.

Little Tim’s on the cover looking out to sea (at something, what is it? Not the ship). The book wouldn’t even need to be well written for me to be excited about it. There wouldn’t need to be many pictures, even one picture would do, even if it was in black and white (Ardizzone really could handle a pen, and that irksome material, black ink). But, of course, it isn’t. There are lots of pictures, lots in colour, and there are little gems throughout: unknown early commissions, men in pubs, things happening in streets, in parks. Always there’s a lightness – his pen is so loose and free, and just in the right place – and there it is, the moment is perfectly caught.

Edward Ardizzone (1900 – 1979), was an artist and illustrator, a biggie in 20th century illustration. The first of his Little Tim books was published in 1936; he also illustrated many contemporary writers (Eleanor Farjeon, Robert Graves). He drew illustrations for Walter de la Mare’s Peacock Pie, for magazines and advertising, and for the classics – to illustrate Dickens, Bunyan, Cervantes.

The book was published in 2016 alongside a retrospective exhibition held by the House of Illustration in London. It covers Ardizzone’s biographical story (he was also a war artist – have a look at the library catalogue for his war diaries…), mid-century illustration and illustration practice (book production, printing). And about illustration itself, Ardizzone is fascinating, and assertive. He particularly prized visual memory, and the art of making it all up. Illustration is about an imaginary world for Ardizzone. An illustrator,

‘creates a visual world, which looks real and which can be believed in. Yet it is not the real world but, like the author’s, a fiction.’
(p.179, quoting Ardizzone, The Born Illustrator, p.37).

This is a book for picture lovers, and book lovers. I thoroughly recommend it.”

Maybe 2020 could be the year to discover or revisit the treasure trove and book lover’s haven that is the Art and Design Library? Tucked away in a top corner of Central Library, you’ll find a feast of books, old and new on every aspect of art, craft and design to inspire and captivate.

Read more staff reading recommendations from 2019.

Some of our favourite books of 2019

Ever wondered what library staff choose to read? We asked some of our colleagues to recommend a book they’d particularly enjoyed reading this past year. Here’s what they said:

Carol at Stockbridge Library recommends The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood.
“I’m a big fan of Margaret Atwood, both her books and her politics. This novel has a humour to it although very dark in parts as it relates to this dystopian society, where the main characters Charmaine and Stan start off by living their lives in a car. Desperate to have a better live they embark on a ‘social experiment’ which splits their lives between suburban living one month, swopping it with a prison cell the next. All is not as it seems as both characters stray in their relationship with their alternative others. This is where things start to unfold in a very sinister way. And by the way Elvis makes an appearance, but not as you know him! This book was great fun to read and difficult to put down.”
Available as an ebook

Susan in the Digital Team tells us about The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel.
“It’s fair to say I wasn’t really looking forward to reading “The Stranger in the Woods” by Michael Finkel when it was chosen by my book group. I couldn’t see me enjoying a book about a man who spent almost 30 years of his life with no human interaction hiding out in the woods of Maine – the thought seemed horrifying.  That’s the good thing about book groups though, they throw books and ideas at you that you’d never think of reading and you discover gems like this. Christopher Knight was just 20 years old when he walked into the woods and created a home for himself hidden from the world, whilst living just minutes from other people.  Food and supplies were scavenged and stolen from the rural community around him without anyone ever seeing him, leading him to become known as the North Pond Hermit.  His story is unlike anything you have read and challenges all sorts of beliefs you might have had, bringing up more questions than answers really. Like why did Knight choose the life of a hermit and could you do the same? Why do we feel its wrong to live like this and was it right to try to make him conform to society’s values?  Would you steal to survive and did his thievery make Knight a bad person?  Want a short, fascinating non-fiction read – then this is the one for you.
Available as an ebook

Douglas from the Music Library recommends Sleeping Giants, (The Themis Files) by Sylvain Neuvel.
“I was in a well-known bookshop one day, browsing titles, when my daughter picked up a copy of Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel. She was at that point almost set upon by a staff member who began to tell how good this book was and so on and so forth.  This kind of intrusion by staff in any shop is unwanted and unwelcome, so she put the book down and we made to move away. At that moment, an older gentleman leaned over the book table and said quietly, it really is a very good read and not at all how it was just described to you, completely different from anything he had read before, and a page turner.
All of which I have to agree with wholeheartedly, I am not a Sci-Fi reader but this has many more elements than just Sci-Fi. It is very readable, it moves with pace and is over all too quickly.
Sleeping Giants is the first part of a trilogy, the Themis files which I would also recommend.”

Clare in the Digital Team really liked The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton.
“I loved The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle. It’s a book unlike any I’ve ever read before. It was like being stuck in a sinister video game set in a stately home who-dunnit story. The narration changes every day as the protagonist slips into a different character in a race against time to solve the crime before he’s destined to start the story loop all over again – never knowing who he can trust, including himself.
It was complicated and clever and confusing but well worth the effort. I read this book back in January but it’s by far the most memorable book I read all year.”
Available as an ebook

Bronwen from the Art and Design and Music Libraries recommends two books. Her favourite fiction book of 2019 is Georgina Harding’s Land of the Living.
“Set in Norfolk and Nagaland in North East India, the narratives centres around Charlie, a young British Officer recently returned from service in India and Burma during the Second World War as he tries to reconnect with his childhood landscape of Norfolk, settling back into home and married life working a farm. Switching between the internal dialogue of Charlie’s memories and day to day conversations with his wife in Norfolk we learn more of Charlie’s harrowing experiences during the war and his time spent living with the Naga tribe. Charlie can’t bring himself to tell his young wife all he has experienced and this disparity between his experiences and what he reveals to even those close to him creates a powerful drama in the book. I found the book particularly interesting as I’d never heard of the Naga tribe and the book goes into quite some detail about their way of living and customs which I followed up with my own research. There’s also a dog in the story who lives on the farm with Charlie and his wife in Norfolk who to me seemed to symbolise home and family but when I asked the author this at a book festival signing she said, no, it’s just a dog, dogs are part of farm life.”

Bronwen’s favourite non-fiction book of 2019 is Elizabeth Day’s How to Fail.
“Based on Day’s series of podcasts in which interviewees explore what their failures have taught them, the book is divided into themes we can all relate to, such as family, work, relationships. It’s a powerfully honest book and Day reveals much of her own emotional and other personal struggles, but at the same time I found the book funny and uplifting. This is a book everyone can relate to – we’ve all failed at things at various times in our lives and we’re probably all still failing, and sometimes we learn to do things better the next time and sometimes not. The book made me want to write my own chapter on how to fail at being a library manager…”
Available as an ebook

Nicola from Kirkliston and South Queensferry Libraries picks Me by Elton John as her highlight of the year.
“This official autobiography by the Rocket Man (Elton John) did not disappoint. His early childhood and influence of his mother, whom he had a strained relationship with due to her moods and volatility, were contrasted to the nurturing role taken on by is grandmother. The absence of encouragement to be himself, and a burning ambition and desire to carve his own path lead to him undertaking to study at the Royal Academy of Music ultimately throwing out convention and turning to rock and roll.
There are so many times in his life where he reflects on the turning points which defined his career, often brought about by chance or twists of fate – the most career defining being his being given the contact for Bernie Taupin – his long standing lyricist and song writing partner.
There are so many anecdotes, which reveal an honesty and openness about a not perfect, but a life which has been lived to the fullest. I loved the anecdote about Sylvester Stalone, Richard Gere and Princess Diana coming to his home for a dinner party.
A page turning read, which had me hooked in its openness – a real roller coaster ride if ever there was one – fasten your seat belts!! 😉”

Janette from the Digital Team chooses The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter by Malcolm Mackay

A twenty – nine year old man lives alone in his Glasgow flat. The telephone rings, a casual conversation, but behind this a job offer. The clues are there if you know where to find them.

“Meet Calum Maclean, a free lance hit man for the Glasgow underworld, who is hired to bring about the demise of small-time drug dealer Lewis Winter.
It’s an easy job, in and out. It’s what happens next that creates problems. Calum finds himself embroiled in a turf war between an up and coming crime boss Shug Francis and the man who’s hired him, Jamieson, the long-standing boss in that part of town. Winter was one of Francis’s men and Jamieson put the hit out to send a message to Francis, who shall we say is none too pleased. He may have to do something, like go after Calum.
Written entirely in the present tense, it could well be described as a criminal procedural book. The chapters are short, and I found myself saying ‘just one more chapter’ before long half the book had been read……one more chapter?
This is the first book in what has become a trilogy, the next two are on my list to read over the holidays.”

Nikki from South Queensferry Library recommends To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf.

Virginia Woolf is one of those authors I’ve always meant to dip into, but I picked this book up on a bit of a whim. The book is centred around the Ramsay family and their holiday home on the Isle of Skye. Knowing very little about her style of writing and nothing at all about the plot of the book helped me enjoy both the characters and story for what they are. There’s dense poetic description in places, but rather than putting me off it made me want to slow my pace and take in as much as possible. Time is distorted in the story and changing character perspectives on top of this can make it a little hard to follow at times, but Woolf’s focus on the everyday tensions of family life and the affects of grief are very moving. I really enjoyed To the Lighthouse, and I think it’s a book I could come back to again and again and still find a new layer to the story.

Cecylia from Edinburgh and Scottish Collection recommends Things that Fall from the Sky by Selja Ahava.

“Things that Fall from the Sky was one of this year’s reads in our Found in Translation book group. We read it alongside the Finnish book group at our sister library, Iisalmi  and exchanged our thoughts on the book. I found it wonderfully weird and enchanting, also tragic and humorous at the same time. It’s a story or a fairy tale of three characters whose lives are changed forever by random events. A mother dies when hit by a block of ice which falls from the sky. A woman wins the lottery twice and a man is struck by the lightning four times. How they cope with the unexpected events? How they try to explain them? How they love and grieve?
Most highly recommended.”

What have you been reading this year?
Fancy joining a book group in 2020? Get in touch with your local library to find out how you can join their group or drop into the Central Library BookCafe

Read another about another great book recommendation from our Art and Design Library. 


Desert Island Discs – Iain from Edinburgh and Scottish and Reference collections

Iain Duffus is our newest member of staff joining us recently to head up the Reference Libary and Edinburgh and Scottish Collection. Starting a new job can be exhilarating, daunting, exhausting and more, there are many pressures on Iain’s time, but he found a spare moment to give us his Desert Island choices.

Music For Eighteen Musicians by Steve Reich 
The first disc I will take to the island is by Steve Reich. Reich’s works were a real gateway for me into the realisation that orchestral music has a modern and interesting direction. I have chosen Music for Eighteen Musicians as it has so many strands and seems infinite in its detail. Even after repeated listens of this record, each time reveals something different. It is hypnotising, welcoming and at the same time intriguing and bursting with energy. Perfect for losing yourself in and (trying) to forget about space and time.

Brief History: The best of the Penguin Café Orchestra
This music reminds me of doing two things; one is studying late at night trying to cram as much as possible in before a test. I thought the calming music would help, but it often turned out to just be a distraction because it is so beautiful. The other is cooking breakfast on a Sunday morning. Penguin Café was often the soundtrack, the Penguins were consistently good – my recipe attempts were not! This is the best of CD but I would happily just take their first album Music From The Penguin Café also.

Selected Ambient Works Vol II by Aphex Twin
I actually wanted to choose the first volume ‘Selected Ambient Works 85-92’ as that has many of my favourite tracks on there. However, it’s probably just as well I couldn’t find it because I did it to death when I was a teenager. So Volume II is coming to the island with me instead. Aphex’s early material has really stood the test of time. It still feels unique, strange and other worldly whilst not forgetting the conventions of pop and dance music that his later material did.

My luxury item would have to be suntan lotion or a pair of reading glasses.